They Have Not Gained the Victory
Psalm 129; Mark 14:53-65
“They’ve kicked me around since I was young – they’ve kicked me around since I was young.”
How’d you like that for your National Anthem? It may surprise and even shock you that this is one of the great songs God’s people sang as they made their way up the hill of Jerusalem for worship, “They’ve kicked me around since I was young.”
But let me take a wild guess here: I bet you’ve been kicked around once or twice, right? In fact, my guess is that it didn’t just happen when you were young. Pretty much exactly a year ago some of you were kicked around when a cyclone bomb and terrible floodwaters tore through Nebraska and this area.
Yesterday I read an article in the Lincoln Journal Star about Laura Sucha – the owner of the Country Café in Niobrara. A year ago the Spencer Dam failed and the raging river swept away her neighbors. Massive ice chunks swallowed her Café. With all the roads that were washed away – you could say it was brutal.
It shocked people that she actually reopened last summer and that business improved. People were curious – they liked her place and the place thrived. But now comes this virus and she can only serve 10. Two crises in one year. It’s like getting kicked in the teeth.
I bet there are days when you feel like you’ve been kicked in the teeth. And, I bet there are days when you’re not too happy about it. On account of the Covid 19 Virus your hours have been cut.
Maybe you’ve lost your job. Maybe you’re worried about your health – especially if you’re over 80. Maybe you’re wondering how you’re going to be able to pay your rent – your mortgage – or some other major bill.
I bet there are days when you wonder why your God lets you – His child – experience that kind of garbage. Now, I’m not trying to shame you for your worry or your anger here, not at all. You see, there’s more than one Psalm where we find God’s people questioning what God’s thinking and doing.
In Psalm 73, Asaph admits that he almost stumbled and lost his faith when he saw the wicked prosper while he and others had to struggle. It made him wonder whose side God was on.
And do you know what? In Psalm 22 – which is a psalm about the Messiah – God’s Messiah asks, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far away when I groan?” Psalm 22:7
So again, no one had to feel guilty for asking ‘why’ or in acknowledging that life for the child of God can be difficult on the best of days. There’s no shame at all in admitting that life can be tough on this side of heaven.
Yet, though we may have a ‘tough life’ on this side of heaven – God’s people can also possess a tough faith. Those pilgrims to Jerusalem did. Listen again to their song: “They’ve kicked me around since I was young – but they never could keep me down.” Psalm 127:2
Obviously, the people of God are tough. Since Easter morning, the world has waged war against the way of faith. You know what? They have yet to win. They’ve tried everything and nothing’s worked. Persecution – ridicule – torture – exile – isolation – mockery --- but the way of faith grows and thrives in the face of all of it. That’s why this Song of Ascent is such an encouragement to us today. “They’ve kicked me around since I was young – but they never could keep me down.” Psalm 127:2
Those who think that Christianity is for the weak and fragile need to read their Bibles. In writing about what Jesus would have to go through, Isaiah writes,
“He grew up before God like a young plant – like a vulnerable seedling out of dry ground. He was looked down on – dismissed and passed over – a man who suffered – He knew pain firsthand. One look at Him and people turned away.” Isaiah 53:2-3
Sounds like the Messiah would have to face a tough life. Yet, here’s what Isaiah said would happen in the case of the Messiah when He got kicked around – yet maintained a tough faith: “His life will flourish and grow. God’s plan will prosper through what He does. Out of His painful struggles, He will see that God is faithful. He will see it is worth it and will be glad He endured.
Through what He learned, My righteous one, My servant will make many to be counted as right before God because He carried the burden of their rebellions.” Isaiah 53:10-11
You remember the way it was with Jesus, don’t you? His ministry began with forty difficult days of temptation in the wilderness and concluded in a terrible night of testing and trial in Gethsemane and Jerusalem.
Mark shares that the High Priest and the whole Jewish Council conspired to put Him – our holy and innocent Lord – to death. Accusing Him of blasphemy they all – every last one of them – agreed that He deserved to be executed. Then one after another after another took their turns to spit on Him. Next, they put a sack over His head and stuck Him with hard blows while mocking Jesus – challenging the Prophet to use His prophetic gifts and tell them who had hit Him.
It was worse than awful. Has anyone ever experienced the kind of agony Jesus experienced both physically and mentally as He endured such torment and abandonment even by His own Father?
And Paul. If any Jesus follower ever displayed a tough faith while enduring a tough life, it was Paul. He testified that as he’d gone about spreading the saving message of Christ crucified and Christ victorious - he’d been beaten many times, stoned, shipwrecked, placed in danger by in everyplace by everyone. He’d faced hunger, exhaustion, cold and exposure – yet, none of that destroyed his faith. None of it made him think he’d somehow gone down the wrong path in life.
A fascinating and instructive line appears in the 3rd verse of our psalm, “The plowers plowed upon My back. They made long their furrows. Yet, the Lord is righteous. He’s cut the cords of the wicked.”
Picture God’s people, Israel, lying stretched out. Their enemies hitch up their oxen and start to plow. They begin cutting long furrows in the back of Israel - the way a farmer would do when working a field. Imagine the whole thing: the blood, the pain, the back and forth cruelty.
Yet, in these times of trouble and terror – God is not absent. Suddenly, the righteous Lord cuts the cords of the wicked – He makes it impossible for them to continue their plowing. See, though we may experience a tough life – we have a tough God too.
What the Holy Spirit wants us to know today, is that though heaven isn’t here on earth – being connected to the Lord who is righteous makes all the difference.
When we’re at the end of our rope – the Lord cuts the cords that have our face in the dirt and a plow on our backs. In His willingness to let His back be plowed – scourged to shreds - when He was tied to a post and lashed – He took on the punishment we deserved. In His resurrection, He assures us that we’re going to come through the tough times we experience in the here and now.
We persevere because He is faithful.
“They’ve kicked me around since I was young.” Do you remember me asking if you’d like that for your National Anthem? Well, it sort of is. Remember the words of our National Anthem?
Why don’t you recite them with me –
And the rocket’s red glare. The bombs bursting in air –
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.
O say does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.
That sounds to me like a song of perseverance to me. That sounds like a song of triumph. Knowing that in Christ, the victory’s been won – let’s be proud to sing with our hands over our hearts – “They’ve kicked me around since I was young – but they will never keep me down.”
Thanks be to God.