In our day and age, maraming mga millennials at Gen Z ang nagsasabi online na “mahirap para maging adult!” Mahirap mag-Adulting 101. For sure, maraming factors kung bakit nila nasasabi ‘yon: Pwedeng dahil less na ‘yong time nila para sa games; pwedeng dahil nagbabayad na rin sila ng bills. Overall, malamang ‘yon ay dahil mas nae-experience na nila ‘yong realities and challenges ng life.
And one way or another, we can all relate to that. Life here on earth is distressing. Life can be painful and upsetting. But whenever we are upset or distressed with life—what do we do? Where do we go?
Now, if you noticed, our sermon today will be on Psalm 120. Bale natapos na ‘yong series natin on 1 Peter three (3) Lord’s Days ago, tapos si Pastor Nollie naman ay nag-preach on two different Old Testament texts the previous 2 Sundays.
I planned to preach next on the Gospel according to John. Pero since New Testament ulit ‘yon, and I will need more time to study and prepare for it—I decided to take a series on a set of Psalms first.
If you look at your Bibles, may mababasa kayo sa ilalim no’ng title ng Psalm 120, “A Song of Ascents.” It’s actually part of a mini-collection of Psalms, which includes Psalm 120-134. Which is a total of 15 Psalms.
The Songs of Ascents were written by various authors. ‘Yong iba hindi kilala kung sino author at kung ano ‘yong specific background nang sinulat ‘yon. Pero ‘yong Psalm 122, 124, 131, and 133 are written by David, then Psalm 127 is written by Solomon. Pero bakit magkakasama sila sa section na ‘to sa Psalms?
Hindi po natin kilala kung sino (or sinu-sino) ‘yong nag-compile at nag-arrange ng book of Psalms. But we know that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the book of Psalms came to us this way, in this arrangement. Hence, there must be a purpose why these particular Psalms are grouped together as “Songs of Ascents.”
So bakit nga ba sila tinawag na “Songs of Ascents?” That’s a good question para makita natin kung ano ‘yong purpose at message nila within the context of the book of Psalms. For the benefit of time, hindi na natin ime-mention ‘yong ibang theories on the meaning of “Songs of Ascents” but focus only on the one that makes sense.
The term “Ascents” may be understood and linked to passages where people are described as “going up” to Jerusalem (e.g., 1 Samuel 1:3; Luke 2:42; John 2:13). Geographically, Jerusalem is a city located on a hill. Pataas siya, kaya kapag pupunta kang Jerusalem, you are “going up” or “ascending.”
Part of God’s commands to Israel back then is that all the males should “go up” to Jerusalem 3x times per year during certain Feasts. Kahit after the exile, at maraming Jews ang nakatira na outside Israel, pumupunta pa rin sila do’n as “pilgrimage.” So these pilgrims go to Jerusalem to worship and sacrifice in the temple multiple times each year, kaya nga ang title is “Song of Ascents”. (not just “Ascent”)
And these 15 Songs of Ascents served as songs which the pilgrims sung on the road to Jerusalem and perhaps even when they arrived at Jerusalem. The songs instruct them on what they must be thinking and will be experiencing throughout the journey and at the finish line.
So, it is from that perspective and background that we need to read and understand the “Songs of Ascents.” Since these Songs follow the journey of pilgrims to Jerusalem, there is an overarching storyline—which we will go through in the succeeding Psalms.
But the more important thing is this: Since we are the New Testament pilgrims, this storyline of the pilgrims heading to Jerusalem back then will also instruct us and encourage us now on our road to the new and heavenly Jerusalem.
Now, the storyline begins at Psalm 120. The pilgrim is still in his hometown, in the middle of the stresses of daily life. He’s struggling with the broken reality of life.
Kung ia-assess natin ‘yong structure no’ng Psalm, pwede ma-divide into 3 parts:
- Vv. 1-2 — The pilgrim is in distress, and he prays for deliverance from lies, from deceit, from sin
- Vv. 3-4 — The pilgrim knows there will be a punishment for all these lies and deceit, he knows that God will punish sin
- Vv. 5-7 — The pilgrim laments over personal circumstances, he grieves over the present life.
And this is the message of the entire Psalm: This present world is distressful because it is corrupted by sin everywhere, which reminds us to seek redemption in the presence of God alone.
[TRANSITION]: Now, why is this present life full of distress?
Point 1: Why Life is Distressful
The psalmist begins, “In my distress I called to the LORD…” I am in distress with this life! Ako’y balisa. Bakit?
- First, life is distressful because it is corrupted by sin
Both our sins and the sins of others. Again, in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, may purpose ‘yong arrangement ng Psalms. Psalm 120 follows right after Psalm 119. Majority ng Psalm 119 ay patungkol sa Kautusan ng Diyos, at ‘yong pagmamahal ng Psalmist sa Salita ng Diyos. Pero sa dulo no’n—sinabi ng Psalmist (119:176), “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek [me]…”
And here comes Psalm 120, where the pilgrim is set to go to the presence of God in Jerusalem to also confess his sin and misery, to offer sacrifices, and to worship God.
But in this Psalm, he’s not only referring to his sin but also the sins of others. He is also distressed because, in verses 5-6, he lives among people who are sinners as well.
Kagaya ng sinabi ni Isaiah in Isaiah 6:5, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips…”
- Second, life is distressful because it is corrupted everywhere
In verse 5, the pilgrim says, “Woe to me, that I sojourn in Meshech, that I dwell among the tents of Kedar!”
Meshech is somewhere north of Israel (modern Turkey), while Kedar is south-east of Israel (Arabian desert). So he’s like saying, “Whether I live in the north or I come from the south—woe is me!” It’s like, “From the east to the west… anywhere… woe is me! Anywhere I go, there’s lies and deceit, there’s corruption, there’s distress.”
- Third, life is distressful because its corruption awaits nothing but judgment
In verses 3-4, it read, “What shall be given to you, and what more shall be done to you, you deceitful tongue?” What shall be given to all these lies and deception in life?
Verse 4, “A warrior’s sharp arrows, with glowing coals of the broom tree.” Other Psalms, such as Psalm 7:12-13 and 64:7, picture God as a warrior. If the man doesn’t repent, God is ready to shoot him down. To punish him.
‘Yong “broom tree” sa text natin ay isang medium sized na puno, at kapag ginamit ‘yong kahoy no’n sa panggatong, sobrang init at tumatagal nang husto ‘yong init no’n.
Kaya kapag ginamit ‘yong kahoy ng broom tree as an arrow, tapos pinabaga at tinira sa kampo ng kaaway, then madaling makasunog ‘yon. That’s a picture of God judging and destroying his enemies.
So the pilgrim is distressed because he is surrounded by lies and deceit everywhere, which incur the judgment of God. Even thinkers, philosophers, and other people offer countless explanations why life is ruined and offer many solutions—but the Psalmist knew that they are all lies.
And his response and resolve is: “Woe is me! Lord, deliver me from this corrupt life. I’ll get out of here. I want to go to Jerusalem. I want to be in Your presence.
In his famous allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan portrays Christian’s state of mind before he leaves the City of Destruction where he and his family stay. Habang binabasa niya ‘yong book (which stands for the Bible), lalong bumibigat ‘yong burden sa likod niya. At no’ng nalaman niya na ‘yong City of Destruction ay masisira “with fire from heaven,” mas lalo siyang na-distress.
And once he learned where to go to leave the City of Destruction and go to Celestial City, what did he do? He ran away. Kahit tinatawag siya ng family at friends niya na bumalik, he put his fingers on his ears, and kept running away from the city, saying, “Life! Life! Eternal life!”
Now friends, the world of the Psalmist (and Pilgrim) in Psalm 120 is the same world we live in today. This present life is also full of lies and deceit.
- A salesman or sales-lady will offer a product or service. Sasabihin puno benefits. ‘Yong fineprint, syempre hindi na.
- Commercial ng shampoo: sobrang straight at shiny ‘nong buhok ng model. Kapag ginamit mo na, kulot ka pa rin.
- A doctor will prescribe medicine. Pero pag binasa mo, may side-effect pala.
So much of the world gives us false promises and even wrong solutions.
- The world says, “Gawin mo ‘yang kasalanan na ‘yan. You’ll enjoy it.” But after that your life becomes sorrowful and bitter.
- The world says, “If only you have this kind of car… this kind of house… this kind of education… this kind of experience… this kind of salary… you will be happy.” But even if you have them, at the expense of your spiritual life, at the expense of your family—you find yourself still empty and lacking something.
And this corruption is everywhere. Nasa Imus, Cavite ka man o sa probinsiya o sa anumang lupalop ng mundo—nando’n pa rin ang kasalanan. CLARIFY: I’m not saying there are no places more convenient. May mga lugar na mas sagana sa tubig, kaysa po samin sa Anabu na nawawalan ng tubig. Kung kailangan niyo lumipat ng bahay dahil hindi na nafu-fulfill ‘yong physical needs niyo, it’s not wrong.
Nevertheless, the point is that there’s no place here on earth where there is no struggle or any distress at all. Everyone has fallen into sin. So everyone experiences the hardship and corruption caused by sin. Kahit saan, may kasalanan, may disappointments, may consequences of sin.
So beloved, how do you view this present life? Are you enjoying and already satisfied with the world, with all its lies and deceit? Or are you distressed, longing for something better?
[TRANSITION]: Now, aside from being distressed with his present life, the Psalmist (and the Pilgrim) seeks redemption. But as Psalm 120 shows, he doesn’t find it in the world. He must go to the presence of God. That’s where we find redemption.
Point 2: Where We Find Redemption
The reality is, everyone longs for some form of deliverance from all the pain, lies, sadness, and corruption of this life. Kahit sinong tao siguro na makakasalubong mo at tatanungin mo, “Gusto mo bang mawala lahat ng problema mo sa buhay?” Isasagot ‘non, “Aba, syempre oo! Sinong ayaw?”
Pero ‘yong redemption na tinutukoy ng Bible ay hindi katulad ng idea ng mundo. And the world cannot offer that kind of redemption. In fact, the world—in its fallen system—doesn’t care about it.
Look at verses 6-7.
“Too long have I had my dwelling among those who hate peace. I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!”
Peace (shalom). It’s not merely an absence of war, or state of prosperity. In Scriptures, shalom denotes the restoration of the relationship between the holy God and sinful people. It’s about reconciliation with God.
And the Psalmist says, they don’t want it. The world around me doesn’t like it. As Paul also explains in Romans 1:18-32, the natural state of the fallen humanity is to reject God and dishonor him.
The Psalmist (and the Pilgrim) wants peace. He wants fellowship with God. But the wicked and unbelievers around him want “war.” Perhaps, because of the psalmist’s conviction to find peace and life’s answers in the presence of God, rather than the world, other people wage “war” against him! They don’t just hate God; they also hate him, the believer.
God’s people will always experience that in the world. Take Elijah, for instance (1 Kings 18-19). Matapos niyang i-prove sa mga Israelites na false god si “Baal,” at si Yahweh ang tunay na Diyos na dapat nilang sambahin—anong nangyari next? He’s wanted. Gusto siyang ipa-patay ni Queen Jezebel. Imbes na mag-sama sila para magkaroon ng reformation sa Israel at ma-reconcile sila sa Diyos, galit pa kay Elijah.
That’s the experience of the Psalmist (and the Pilgrim). He wants peace; the world wants war and trouble. And that adds to his great distress.
Nevertheless, what does the Psalmist do? He calls to God (verse 1). In all this distress, “I called to the LORD.” And what’s the good news? “He answered me.” The LORD answered me; he listens to me. Although the world is full of lies and deceit, although the wicked and unbelievers are at war with God—the believing sinner is at peace with God. He has access to God.
And that gives him hope and encouragement to leave his dwelling place and take the journey to Jerusalem and enjoy the presence of God.
Brother and sisters, we too can never find peace from the things of this fallen world. In fact, when we long for peace with God, once we are reconciled with God through faith in Christ—the world eventually hates us. May mga bagay at mga beliefs na hindi ka na agree. One way or another, magkakaroon ng oppositions—from your unbelieving family or friends.
And that’s what Christ said in John 15:18: “If they hated me, they will hate you.”
Yet even if we have to struggle against the world in this life, we have peace and comfort in the Lord. How? Why? Because deliverance from sin and the way to God’s presence has already been provided to us when Christ suffered the greatest distress on our behalf.
If we look at the Psalm, it is indeed a story of a Pilgrim suffering and struggling with life characterized by deceit and war against God. But it is the Lord Jesus Christ, the true man who experienced the most profound sense of the emotions captured in this Psalm.
In Luke 19:41-42, no’ng dumating si Christ sa Jerusalem for the last time bago siya ma-aresto, he said: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!” Jesus has spoken peace to Jerusalem, telling them that he is the Son of God who came to reconcile sinners to God. But the people rejected his message; they rejected him. They want “war!”
Instead of embracing the One given for our peace, they soon cried out, “Crucify, crucify him!” (Luke 23:21).
Knowing that he will undergo such kind of suffering, Christ also felt great distress. Before he was arrested, nag-pray muna Siya sa Garden of Gethsemane. Mark 14:33-34 reads, “And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.’”
There’s so much agony in his soul to the point that when he prayed, “Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me,” his sweat was like great drops of blood to the ground. And ultimately, he experienced the greatest distress when he had to suffer on the cross and pay for the sins that he did not commit.
He embraced all this pain and distress upon himself, so that he would reconcile sinners with God.
Yet the good news is, the storyline of Christ didn’t end with suffering and death. God answered him and vindicated him by raising him up from the dead. By his death and resurrection Christ secured victory against Satan—the father of lies. He already sentenced Satan for ultimate destruction in the end not only by burning arrows, but through the eternal fires of hell.
Mga magulang ko’t kapatid, bagama’t ang buhay po natin sa mundong ito ay puno ng paglilinlang ng kasalanan at ng kaaway, remember that Christ prevails! Though Satan continues to speak lies and we are sometimes or many times still gullible—the Lord has triumphed and he will preserve us in our journey as pilgrims.
Conclusion / Final Application
So friends, if you have not yet come to repentance and faith in Christ—keep in mind that the world will never save you. It cannot satisfy you. It cannot deliver you from the deceit and folly of your sins and the sins of others.
When you see the foolishness of sin, and you’re tired of it and disappointed with the world—run to Christ. He already suffered all the pain and distress on your behalf. Although you will still experience trouble and distress along the way, you have the comfort that by his perfect sacrifice, Christ already reconciled you with God and is now bringing you home to the heavenly Jerusalem.
So repent and turn to Christ. Do not put your hope in this deceitful world bound to destruction. Long for the presence of God in the new world to come.
And finally, as believers, kapag tayo po’y nai-i-stress sa mga kasalanan at epekto ng kasalanan (kasalanan man natin o ng iba)… kapag tayo’y napapagod at nadi-disappoint sa iba’t-ibang corruption and troubles sa mundong ‘to—what should we do? Where do we go?
Mag-movie marathon na lang tayo? Mag-babad na lang tayo sa Internet? Baka sakaling makalimutan na lang natin ‘yong distress na meron tayo.
No. Like the Psalmist (and Pilgrim), let the distress of this life bring us to the presence of God. Go back to the gospel; keep meditating on God’s answer to all life’s pain. Cherish the favor and security that we already have in God because of Christ, even while we are still pilgrims in this life.
Paano natin gagawin ‘yon? Commune with God’s Spirit through the Word. Open your Bible or a good book. Take up and read.
And Psalm 120 teaches us that God is a God who listens and answers his people. So beloved, instead of losing hope, keep praying in the face of all frustrations you face on our way to the new and heavenly Jerusalem. The Lord goes before us and is with us.
BENEDICTION: Beloved, in the midst of this corrupt and fallen world, we are given comfort that… “The LORD will bless you and keep you…”
Reuel Dawal is the Minister of the Word and Sacraments at ZCRC. He was an intern prior to being ordained and installed as the church's new pastor. He is currently finishing his Biblical and Theological Studies at the Miami International Seminary (MINTS) online. He and his wife Yeng are married since 2017 and lives in Imus, Cavite.