So Ephesians chapter 6 versus 1 to 20. Children obey your parents in the lord for this as rights. Honor your father and mother, which is the first commandment with a promise so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth. Fathers do not exasperate your children Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the lord. Slaves obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ, obey them not only to win their favor when their eyes on you, but as slaves of Christ doing the will of God from your heart.
Served wholeheartedly as if you were serving the lord, not people. Because you know that the lord will reward each 1 for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them since you know that he who is both their master and yours is in heaven. And there is no favouritism with him.
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world, and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore, put on the full armor of God so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. And after you have done everything to stand.
Stand firm then with a belt of truth buckled around your waist. With a breastplate of righteousness in place and with your feet fitted with the redness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith with which you can distinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil 1. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
With this in mind be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord's people. Praise also for me. That whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel. For which I am an ambassador in chains. Praise that I may declare it fearlessly as I should.
And now some a hundred and 29. They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, let Israel say, They have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me. Plumbing have plowed my back and made their furrows long. But the lord is righteous. He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.
Male who hates Zion be turned back in shame. May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow? A reaper cannot fill his hands with it. No 1 who gathers, fill his arms. May those who pass by not say to them, the blessing of the lord be on you, we bless you in the name of the lord.
Good evening. Thanks for reading that to us, Sophie. My name is Tom Sweetman. If we haven't met before, I'm the assistant pastor here at the church. And it's lovely to welcome you and particularly if this is your first time with us this evening.
It's great to have you or if you're visiting us, then lovely to welcome you. We will come to that Ephesians reading, that long reading from Ephesians a bit later on. But if you can keep your bibles open on Psalm 129, that would be good. If you haven't been with us for the past few weeks, this is a series that we've been doing in this collection of Psalms called the songs of Ascent, and they were originally for the people of God to pray and to sing as they made their way up to Jerusalem for a festival or a feast in order to worship the lord. But we've been learning that these also belong to the Christian in every age who is on a journey, on a pilgrimage, who is going from this world to that which is to come and on the roads we have a community.
We have a church and we sing songs and we lament together. And so these songs are for Christians in every age, and it's been great to go through this series together, and Psalm hundred and 29 will be our home for this evening. Should we pray as we get into it? Heavenly, father, we thank you for your amazing life giving word and we thank you for how you have blessed us and how you have spoken to us through these songs of ascent that we've been looking at together. And father, we pray that you would speak to every 1 of us here this evening in Jesus name.
Amen. There's just 2 things or 2 points that I want us to see this evening from this sum. And the first 1 is entitled experience of god's people who are oppressed and yet never overcome. The experience of God's people is that they are oppressed and yet never overcome. And secondly, we're gonna see that the future of God's enemies is that they will be turned back in shape.
The church is oppressed but never overcome. But secondly, the enemies of God will be turned back in shape. Those are the 2 headings. So firstly, we're gonna look at the experience of God's people who were oppressed and yet never overcome. Derek Kidna, who's an old testament commentator.
He says, at the beginning of his reflection on this song, and I put the quote up, Abry, if you would mind just clicking along. He says, whereas most nations tend to look back on what they have achieved, Israel reflects here on what she has survived. It's a big difference, isn't it? Look at what we have achieved. There's a nation.
Look at our trading power. Look at our economy. Look at our contribution to technology. Look at all that we have achieved as a nation. Versus look at what we have had to survive.
The difference between the CV and the honest biography. You know, in the CV, you wanna list off your achievements. Don't you put them in bold type and underline them, educated at this school. Trained in this institution. Got these grades at university.
Have this work experience. You wanna list off your achievements. But an honest biography may contain those achievements, but it will also list off the difficult times, the dark periods of life, and the things that have been survived. And these psalms are very much like that. They're very raw.
As the people of God are journeying up to worship the lord and as we journey on in this life to meet Christ face to face 1 day There will be a mixture of joy. There's much to celebrate about being a Christian. But there is also weeping and there is times to reflect on what we have endured and what we have survived. And so you find in these signs that the highs are very high and the lows are the lows are very low. And this sum begins with a memory, a time to think back to the suffering that god's people have been exposed to.
Have a look with me at versus 1 to 4. They have greatly oppressed me from my youth. Let Israel say, they have greatly oppressed me from my youth, but they have not gained the victory over me. Plowmen have plowed my back and made their furrows long, but the lord is righteous. He has cut me free from the cords of the wicked.
And there's a few things we learn about the nature of this suffering. Firstly, we see that this suffering is personal. So you notice that this is a community sum is 1 that they would sing together. Let Israel say, that's a word to the whole community. Let Israel say, but there's a personal note to the suffering.
They have greatly oppressed me. Let Israel say they have greatly oppressed me. It doesn't matter whether it was only 10 of them or a hundred of them or a thousand of them or 10000 of them that were exposed to this oppression Each 1 felt it personally. Let Israel say they have greatly oppressed me. It was felt by the individuals involved.
Secondly, we learned this suffering was great. It's interesting that both sentence number 1 and 2 actually begin with the word great in the original. It goes great. My impression from my youth. Great.
My oppression from my youth. And that's just a way of emphasizing the greatness of it, both the size and the scale of the suffering we're talking about. It's been great and it's been long lasting. It's been terrible. Thirdly, we learned that the suffering has been vicious.
Have a look at verse 3 again, and that image plowman have plowed my back and made their furrows long. If you don't know what a plow is, there's a picture of it up on the screen here. This is something like what they used to do with their farms. They used to have these 2 oxen and they would pull along this plow. And it was basically out either 1 or 2 large sharp metal blades.
And as they were dragged through the soil, they would dig these deep furrows or trenches into the ground and then they would sow their seed into those trenches. And so what are we supposed to imagine We're supposed to imagine a person laid out, faced down on the surface of the ground, stretched out, with a metal blade being pulled across their back, digging a trench or furrow into their very skin. It's vicious. Just as the plow would torture the surface of the earth. So these enemies had tortured the people of god.
And the other thing we learn about it is that it's constant. Notice in verse 1, they have greatly impressed me from my youth. See, whether pharma was plowing a field like that, the last thing that they would do is stop midfield. So you wouldn't just get halfway up the field, half a trench, and then go off for a t break. You would you would finish the job.
You would go right from 1 end of the field right up until the other and you would then turn around and go back the other way. In other words, it's constant. That's the imagery. It never stops. It goes up and it comes back.
And it goes up and it comes back greatly. Have they impressed me from my youth, the whole field has been plowed for as long as we've been for as long as we've been alive. And that is certainly true of God's people in the Old Testament. Isn't it? If you think about their history, you know, all the way back in the Garden of Eden, here are God's people in their infancy, Adam and Eve, they haven't been there long before the oppression begins.
The enemy arrives and he starts telling lies about god and lies about being god's people in the world. The oppression begins and then you think about the exodus. I mean, the people of God when they went down into Egypt were were a big family, but they were only really a big family. And yet the whole nation was born into captivity. They multiplied and they grew in slavery for many of them.
That was their only experience of being a child of God. They were enslaved. And then you think about the exiles that took place. To Assyria and to Babylon. I mean, you imagine it.
Foreign invaders coming into your home sacking your temple, destroying everything that you've ever known, deporting you to a foreign land, and all that you loved and knew had had turned just into scorched earth. You'd begun. It was unrecognizable. The persecution of the people of God had been personal. It had been great.
It had been vicious. And it had been constant throughout their history. And although verse 1, They have greatly impressed me from my youth let Israel say, although that is not about the the modern nation state of Israel, we're not to think Israel. That always means political Israel. It is certainly true that the Jewish people have faced great suffering for as long as they have been a people.
I mean, I don't know enough about the history But from what I do know, it seems that wherever there have been Jewish people in the world, they have been persecuted, they have suffered, they have endured, And so this verse does find an application there even if its ultimate fulfillment is for the church in every age. We've been thinking about that a bit with Sudan, with North Korea, with other places And of course, it is true that the battles that we face in this part of the world are not as fiery and as physical as they would have been in the exodus or in places like Sudan and North Korea. They are no less real. Essentially how Paul argues in Ephesians 5 and 6, isn't it? The way that he works through domestic life.
That's why I wanted the first bit red as well as the second. You know, in chapter 5, he talks to the wives and he talks to the husbands. In chapter 6, he's talking to the parents, the fathers, the mothers, he addresses the children. He then goes on to talk about the workers the employers and the employees. And then in chapter 6 verse 10, he suddenly starts talking about swords and shields.
And enemies and battle lines and armor and opponents and fiery darts. And you think who's he now addressing? He's spoken to the wives, the husbands, the bosses, the masters, the children, the parents, and now he seems to be addressing this elite carrot this elite group of warriors in the church. But of course, he's not. Is he?
He's addressing the very same people because it's the mums and the dads and the husbands and the wives and the children and the parents who are those spiritual warriors. They are the ones in the battle. The warriors are the mums. And the point he's making there is that the battle lines for us aren't out there somewhere, the battle lines run through every Christian life and every Christian home. Not against flesh and blood, he says, but against our spiritual oppresses, against our spiritual enemies.
The world, the people around us, this world in which we live, which would just laugh the idea that anyone would take biblical Christianity seriously. The flesh, our sinful nature, which has been dealt with by Jesus on the cross, and yet, nonetheless, is still present to tempt us and to rock us and to lead us away from Christ. And the devil who hates the church and hates Christ with such an unending passion and lies and accuses the people of God. It may not be a holocaust experience or a North Korea experience. But in every age, the church can say, they have greatly oppressed me from my youth.
Let the church say they have greatly oppressed me from my youth. But it doesn't stop there. Does it look at verses 2 and 4? They have greatly impressed me from my youth. But they have not gained the victory over me.
They have not been able They have not overcome us. Plowman may have plowed our backs and made their furrows long, but the lord is righteous. And he has cut me free from the cords of the wicked. Apparently in church history, alongside the the fish and the cross. 1 of the symbols for the church, 1 of the symbols of the Christians was the the burning bush.
You might know that story from Exodus 3 where the Lord appears to Moses in a burning bush. And when you go back over his tree. You see that theologians have talked about the church as the burning bush and even on some churches you find engravings like this. Which are a bit cryptic to start with, aren't they? You wonder what exactly we're meant to be looking at.
But actually, you do find these pictures, these engravings of a burning bush, and underneath this particular 1, which is from a church in Scotland, are the words in Latin yet not consumed, yet not consumed. And that became a symbol for the church in every age that they were wrapped in flames. That they were under attack, that there was the fire of persecution around them, and yet Exodus 3 verse 2, yet not consumed, oppressed and yet not overcome, troubled and yet always triumphant. And it's true, isn't it again if you look back over the history? In the Garden of Eden, Adam Beneath were oppressed.
They were wrapped in flames. And there's a sense in which they were overcome. But not finally overcome because the lord provided a sacrifice for them. He covered their shame and he promised that a redeemer would come into the world. You think about the exodus.
For hundreds of years, they were wrapped in flame. They literally had the furrows in their backs. As the whips of their masters landed upon them year after year after year and yet they were not consumed. They were taken out, they were redeemed, and from that people a great redeemer would come. You think about the exile, They were taken away for their sin.
They were overcome. They felt the whips of their masters. And when they returned, they were just a a fraction of what they were. And yet the lord had preserved enough that the Christ could 1 day come through them. Wrapped in flames, and yet not overcome.
And the deepest reason for that is because it is the experience of our lord himself, isn't it? Versus 1 to 4 is in many ways the experience of Christ himself. Have a look at these verses from Isaiah chapter 50 talking about the the suffering servant and hopefully these will there you can see. The sovereign lord has opened my ears. I have not been rebellious.
I have not turned away. I offered my back to those who beat me. My cheeks to those who pulled out my beard. I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the sovereign lord helps me, I will not be disgrace Therefore, I have set my face like Flint and I know that I will not be put to shame.
He who vindicates me is near. See what the suffering servant says. I offered my back. I gave my back to the Romans scourging. The furrows were channeled into my back as I felt the pain of the whip and the bone and the stone that carved into my back.
My beard was pulled from my face the furrows that they made were long. It happened from my youth. You know, how old was Jesus before herod wanted him executed. Is only a boy, from his youth, he was oppressed right up into the cross and that this says he was not disgraced not put to shame, vindicated, wrapped in flames, yet not consumed. That's Christ in his cross, isn't it?
He goes to the cross, and he bears our sin, and he dies for us, all the wrongs that we've committed. He bears the 1 himself and there is a sense in which he's overcome. He breathes his last, he says it is finished, but he is not finally overcome because on the third day he rises again, victorious Lord of all, and you can imagine him saying to his disciples, look at my wounds, a press and yet not overcome. Because here I am. And then he says to his disciples, in this world, you will have trouble.
The servant is not above his master. If they hated me, they will hate you. In this world, the flames will wrap around you, but you are to take heart. Which means to radiate with warm confidence because I have overcome the world. 1 of the tragic things about the Sudan and the war in Ukraine and others is that the the outcome is just impossible to predict you can't put an end date on it.
No 1 knows what the outcome is gonna be or where it's gonna end. But not with this not with this conflict. Paul saw this. Have a look at 2 Corinthians chapter 6 with me on the screen. Here's how he describes his ministry.
As servants of God, we commend ourselves in every way. We are genuine, yet regarded as impostors, known, yet regarded as unknown. Dying and yet we live on, beaten and yet not killed, sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, poor, yet making many rich. Having nothing and yet possessing everything. You see the flames that were wrapped around him in his ministry.
He was regarded as impostor as unknown, dying, beaten, sorrowful, poor, having nothing wrapped in flames and yet not consumed. Known. We live on. Beaten, yet not killed. Sorrowful, always rejoicing, poor, making many rich, nothing, yet possessing everything.
Because in Christ, We die in our racked in flames but are never overcome, even more clear in Romans 8. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or dangerous or sword. As it is written for your sake, we face death all day long. We are considered a sheep to be slaughtered. No.
In all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. See it again, oppressed, death or day long, trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword. In the words of this Psalm, greatly oppressed. And yet in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. We are overcomers because we're in Christ.
And if you're a Christian, verse 4 of this Psalm is your life story. The Lord is righteous. He has cut me free. From the cords of the wicked. It's true in your salvation, wasn't it?
You were held by the cords and of Satan and sin and death and yet the lord has cut you free cut you free through his cross and resurrection. It'll be the story of your whole life Even if you feel oppressed in lots of different ways, your testimony on your gravestone will be the Lord has cut me free. And when we get to heaven, that will be the great celebration. What God has achieved through us in Christ and what we have survived because of Christ. Yet not consumed.
Well, if that is the experience of God's people, oppressed and yet always overcoming the future of God's enemies. Is that they will be turned back in shame. And those 4 little words in verse 4 just make all the difference They glue the first half and the second half of this song together. First 4, but the Lord is righteous. It's not easy to say that in suffering, is it?
But the lord is righteous. Imagine saying that in Sudan or in North Korea or in Egypt, but the lord is righteous. We tend to say the opposite. Don't worry when things are hard. When the oppressors come, when the mockery comes, when we go through dark season, We tend to say that the lord, this is not right, lord.
This is not rightness, what I'm experiencing. And yet that's not where these writers go. Is it? Because they know that the righteousness of god is not seen in the absence of enemy. But in god's faithfulness to them, even as they face their enemies.
The lord is righteous he keeps his promises. They're not overcome. He made a promise to them that he'd make them a great nation and they'd be a blessed sing to the world and he's gonna keep it. He's gonna keep the promise because he's righteous versus 5 to 8. Are really a prayer that the lord would apply his righteousness to his enemies, that he would apply his righteousness to his enemies.
You have a look at verse 5 to 7. May all who hates Zion, and again, that's not a sort of political thing to restore modern Jerusalem. May all who hate Zion, it's the people of God, the city of God be turned back in shame. May they be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow? A Reaper cannot even fill his hands with it, nor 1 who gathers fill his arms may those who pass by never say to them the blessing of the law be on you.
We bless you in the name of the lord. Now you will know even if you're super unfamiliar with gardening, that grass can be very stubborn. And it can be very difficult to remove. And even the smallest blades can tear your masonry to pieces and break through your brick But there's also another type of grass which is very very light and wispy and weak, isn't it? If you've ever seen the sort that grows in very shallow, beds of soil, maybe in a driveway or on a drain or something like that.
And it's the sort that just with minimal pressure. You can just you can you can just pull it away. You can just take it away. It's got no root. It's got no nourishment.
There's nothing powering it. So easily taken off and removed. Well, that's the sort of grass that the sawmest wants these enemies to be. May they be like that? May they be like that in this world just in a in a shallow bed of soil?
It just so easily plucked, so easily uprooted. And you noticed that these are not vindictive prayers. You know, these are not full of hate prayers. In fact, they don't even pray that the enemies would go through what they've been true. Could pray that, couldn't it?
Lord, why don't you stretch their backs out? Why don't you bring the plow over the top of their skin? They could pray that. But they don't. This is a prayer from the people of God that their enemies would be short lived.
That they would be easily removed, that they would not succeed against the church, and that their plans to squash the gospel would not triumph, just that they would be removed and forgotten. If you've ever read John Fox's book of martyrs, it's a very famous book in in in Christian literature, the book of martyrs. And it's a I mean, it does not make for, you know, it's not the sort of relaxed 16 read that you would you would have if you want something just to send you off, you know, if you've got insomnia and you're struggling to sleep. You know, it's not what you would read because it's It is a very vivid description of Christian persecution over the ages. And it contains a big section on how bloody Mary tortured Christians in this country in the sixteenth century with the most imaginatively cruel methods that you can think of.
And Charles Spurgeon, Victorian preacher, in his sermon on this Psalm, he says, that Christians ought to study a chapter from the book of martyrs and see if they do not feel inclined to pray a Psalm like this. Over bloody Mary. You study a chapter from the book of martyrs and see if you do not feel inclined to pray a Psalm like this over bloody Mary. We had the opportunity to sit down with some North Koreans this week, a few of us here. And many of you will have heard or will know will have heard what life is like for Christians and for people in general in North Korea.
But to sit across the table from them, and to hear them tell their stories of the sort of cruelty that they and their families have been exposed to. Is very very humbling. And I imagine it is the case that Christians who live in countries where they are exposed to that sort cruelty that perhaps these psalms are a much richer part of their Christian experience and their Christian prayer lives. You know, if you're exposed to the sort of thing described in verse 3, you can imagine they might not feel as uncomfortable as we would. About praying lord may they be like the grass on the roof.
Please take them away. Don't let their persecution and their plan succeed. It's not angry prayers, full of hatred for god's image bearers, and it's certainly not our job to remove them. But we can pray. Lord take them away.
Don't let us be overcome. Don't let them succeed. And then we can defeat them by love and by the gospel. Have a look at Romans 12 and just note the similarity in the language with the Psalm. Paul says, do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath.
For it is written, it is mine to a bench. And I will replace, as the Lord, on the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heat burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil.
But overcome evil with good. And that's 1 application for us, isn't it? To know that the righteous are never going to be overcome. They can pray that their enemies would be overcome. And then we can overcome them by loving them and by sharing the good news of Jesus with them.
That's 1 thing. It tells us how to relate to a presses, doesn't it? Secondly, from this Psalm, It teaches us what to expect in life. Have a look at verse 1. They have greatly impressed me from my youth.
They have greatly impressed me from my youth. If you've ever read the Pilgrim's progress, which is what their students and twenties are going through after the service on Sunday evenings. So you you'll know that apart from a few moments, in the journey. So here you are, you've got Christian and he's traveling from the city of destruction to the celestial city to heaven city and he's journeying through this life. And apart from a few moments of peace and quiet in the palace beautiful, which is a picture of the church, and in the in the restful gardens, which are a picture of the church and on with the Shepherds, who up, you know, that's the church as well.
You know, apart from these few moments, there is from beginning to end. Temptation and hardship and persecution from the very moment that he gains an interest in spiritual things his family closing around him and accusing him of being eccentric out of his mind and he should give up this religious fascination. Right up until he is at the gates of heaven itself. He's there. He's about to be let in and he looks and there's a man called ignorance snacks to him who somehow has made it as far as he has and is still trying to peddle a false gospel and even at the very gates of heaven.
And John Bunyan, the author is trying to say, this is the story from this world to that which is to come. There is just difficulty. The Christian life is 1 of overflowing joy in Christ and in the victory of Christ. But it is an embattled life. And that is the logic of a vision 6.
If we don't if we don't think we are in a battle, then we won't put on the armor. And if we don't put on the armor, then we won't stand. And if we don't stand, then we will fall. We don't have to obsess about spiritual warfare and these things, but we are to know about it. And we are to prepare for it and to expect it because the church in every age says, greatly, have they impressed me from my youth?
That's the second thing. Thirdly, we can be thankful. We can be thankful because the outcome of every battle rests on Christ and not on us. And not on our performance and our skill and our strength and how hard we fight, the victory is the lords. And we have overcome in Christ.
That's why Paul says in Ephesians 6 10. Finally, be strong in the Lord. You'd be strong in the lord. You remain united to Christ, and that's where your strength will come from, your overcoming king. You get to overcome it.
If that's where your strength is not in you, it's in the lord or verse 4 of this Psalm, the lord is righteous. We can be thankful for our deliverance. And fourthly and lastly, we can be encouraged. Because many of you here who follow Jesus Christ will have had tough seasons in your life already. Maybe patterns of sin that have been very hard to shake, maybe times of spiritual depression, where you felt very low and unable to keep going, Maybe you're here now and you feel like you're just barely holding on.
But if you're in Christ, you can be encouraged because you're still here. You're still here and Christ is still alive and so keep going because as we trust in Jesus Christ, We know that whatever happens to us, that engraving of the burning bush stands over our lives, wrapped in flames. Yeah, not consumed. Praise the Lord. Let's have a moment of quiet, and you can You can use that to talk to your father in heaven.
We think of that image, the order, the burning bush, wrapped in flames, the heat of it, the pain of it, the singed leaves, the difficulty. And we know that that is a fitting image for the church in every age. That as the Psalm says, that the oppressors and the affliction can can be great. And yet we thank you that because of Christ twiced. We are not consumed.
We are not overcome. That we are triumphant in the Savior. And we pray lord that you would help this to be the story of our lives and the song of our lives. That because of Christ, we will not be overcome. We thank you, lord, that you are righteous, and you have cut us free.
From the courts of the wicked. We pray for those who do all over the world in in countries much more difficult than our own. For those who give their lives and their energy to oppressing the people of God and trying to stamp out the church's witness. And we pray father that they may be like grass on the roof, which withers before it can grow, that their efforts would be turned back in shame. And that your people through love and gospel proclamation would defeat their enemies and that those enemies would be won to Christ.
And that they would overcome in him to help us lord learn these lessons deeply, change our lives by them in Jesus name, amen.