Psalm 129 is one of the Psalms of Ascent. It is a very fitting Psalm for Good Friday. Suffering is one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about and certainly not experience. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. Even for many who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Suffering is certainly a harsh, intrusive feature of living life in a broken and fallen world. Psalm 129 helps us to understand where to find hope when we suffer!
Here’s the text of this short Psalm:
1″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—
2″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.
3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”
4The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.
5May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!
6Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, 7with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, 8nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!”
How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others.
From Psalm 129, where do we find hope in the midst of our suffering? Our text highlights two things …
- Recall God’s Pattern in redemptive history: Cross and crown… Tragedy and triumph… Sufferings and glories to follow.
Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent anti-Semitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah to destroy both the devil and his works.
How? Plowed upon my back. This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.
Not prevailed against me (v. 2). Did not gain the victory. Persecutors do not prevail over God’s people. The Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.
Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers. So that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.
But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).
- Recall Good Friday
Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on this day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us His sin-sick people. Today we recall our suffering Messiah. We recall His cross, relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers. Jesus suffered to ultimately end all suffering.
One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. The way of humiliation leads to great glory.
Merciful Father, we meet each other today at the foot of the cross. We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another: Have mercy on us.
As those who spurn Your love for other loves: Be merciful to us.
As those who put our trust in power and prestige: Be merciful to us.
As those who pursue only our own personal interests: Be merciful to us.
As those who put others on trial: Be merciful to us.
As those who refuse to forgive: Be merciful to us.
As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure: Be merciful to us. Amen.