Gather round kids, and let Uncle David tell you a story. A story from a long time ago in a land far away. A story about a Jewish farmer called Jonathan, and his trip to the city.
(slide 1) Jonathan ben Hosea sighed as he loaded up the donkey again. The small group of pilgrims had been 4 days on the road from the other end of Judah. Everyone was tired and cranky and hungry and dusty.
But tonight they’d be in Jerusalem, and the thought of it brought a smile to Jonathan’s face. They’d be staying with relatives. There’d be hot baths, soft beds, broad smiles and friendly hugs.
Best of all, there’d be the Passover meal. The whole reason they’d come to Jerusalem. To celebrate with FAMILY, and then to celebrate together/ AS A NATION/ at the temple.
A time to remember God’s salvation in Egypt. To remember his judgment passing over his people, and falling on their Egyptian captors instead. To remember his miraculous rescue from slavery. His powerful miracles. His extraordinary release.
And finally, to remember God’s faithful, long-suffering guidance in bringing them into the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, and all good things.
Yes, thought Jonathan, Passover was a time to REMEMBER.
And it was a time to thank God for his help IN THE PRESENT. To thank him for his daily provision and protection. For safety, and family and food. A time to REJOICE in God, and enjoy the good things he’d given them.
(slide 2) Though, thought Jonathan, as usual, it was never a good time to drop everything and come to Jerusalem. Work was EXTRA busy on the farm. (slide 3) Animals giving birth, weeds sprouting up everywhere blown in by the hot northerly wind. Not enough rain – as usual for this time of year.
To make matters worse, the neighbour’s cattle had broken down the fence and trampled his barley. And the rotten neighbours just laughed when he complained.
His children were fighting like cats and dogs. Slow to do their chores. Quick to argue. No help at all!
And then there was Miriam his wife. She’d been so sick with her latest pregnancy, he had to leave her at home. Only weeks to go until the birth. He didn’t know what he’d do if anything happened to her. Jonathan prayed she’d be alright.
(slide 4) Jonathan finished loading up the donkey, gathered the kids together, and hit the road for the final time, at the tail of the gaggle of pilgrims heading for Jerusalem.
As he walked, he dwelt on the troubles and trials he was facing. When would things get better? Where was God in all of this? Couldn’t God see how FAITHFUL he’d been? Didn’t that count for ANYTHING?
It was so easy to shift his gaze off the wonder of God, and get distracted by the worries of less important things.
Jonathan’s troubled thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of singing from his fellow travellers in front. With Joel on the lyre and Rachel on the flute, everyone had joined in singing the Psalms of Ascent. They were travelling songs. Joyful, melodic and rhythmic. Songs that brought a smile to your face, and a purpose in your step. After a few minutes of singing you forgot all about your sore feet, your aching shoulders, and the worries of the farm.
They were familiar songs. Songs the people sang every year on their way to Jerusalem. Songs about the everyday struggles of life. About doubts, and evil, and struggles. Songs about God’s goodness and faithfulness. About his hand of protection in every situation.
They sang through Ps 120, “I call on the Lord in my distress and he answers me.” Then 121 “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
Jonathan was feeling better already. He quietly joined in, mouthing the words he knew so well.
Ps 122 “I REJOICED with those who said to me, Let us go up to the house of the Lord”. Yep, that’s where they were headed! Ps 123 I lift up my eyes to YOU, to you whose THRONE IS IN HEAVEN.
(slide 5) The road started to climb. They were getting closer to Jerusalem. Ps 124. “If the Lord hadn’t been on our side, the flood would have engulfed us.”
“Amen to that” nodded Jonathan as his thoughts returned to his troubled farm, and his lovely wife Miriam.
And then, just as the road reached the top of another hill, they rounded the corner, and there it was in the distance. Jerusalem. The city of David. Its very presence a reminder of God’s goodness and faithfulness in bringing his people into the Promised Land.
Jerusalem. Solid, dependable, sure and certain. God’s protection and promises kept it safe. (slide 6) Its walls high and imposing.
Perched on the top of Mt Zion. Surrounded by the natural barrier of steep hills leading up to the walls, making it so difficult for invaders to approach.
(slide 7) As Jonathan paused to take in the spectacle, he took a swig of water from his waterskin. And as he steeled himself for the final climb up to Jerusalem, the people began to sing Psalm 125. Another song of ascents. Those who trust in the Lord are like Mt Zion which cannot be shaken but endures forever.
Jonathan liked the sound of that. Like Mt Zion. The city’s foundations sunk deep into the bedrock of the earth. Like Mt Zion. Solid, dependable, unshakeable. Safe. Confident.
SOLID! Jonathan chuckled. Not normally a description that’s too flattering. Especially if it’s used about YOUR FIGURE. His pesky neighbour’s WIFE was a bit like that. But when it comes to being able to cope with tough times, then SOLID is EXACTLY what you want to be.
When life is SOLID, it can’t be shaken. Broken fences, sickness, bad weather, poor crops – none of it can shake you. Because it’s all come from the hand of a good God. Who’s got it all wrapped up in his hand.
When life is SOLID, your present and your future are certain. You know WHERE you’re headed, and WHY. When life is solid, you know WHO YOU ARE and WHAT YOU’RE PURPOSE IS.
(pause) SOLID only comes for those who trust in the Lord. The one who MADE them, who SAVED them. Who protects them, and has a plan for them. A plan that will always bring good things.
Just like the next verse they sung. V2.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.
Yep, thought Jonathan, that’s SOLID. Protected by God’s goodness and power and wisdom. Protected by his purposes and his plans and his righteousness.
He reached into the saddle bag, pulled out a handful of barley and gave it to his donkey to munch. He liked that the Psalm didn’t sugar-coat things. That it didn’t pretend tough times never happened for God’s people. (You’d have to have your head stuck in the sand to think otherwise.)
But when the winds blew, God would KEEP you so you wouldn’t be SHAKEN. When the enemies attacked, God would SURROUND you like mountains so you wouldn’t be OVERCOME.
Famine, sickness, enemies? It might all be bashing you around. Undermining your confidence. But none of it could shake you if you were SOLID. Solid, surrounded by God. Safe in his purposes.
And he liked that LAST WORD. FOREVERMORE. God surrounds his people FOREVERMORE. And when that happens, they can endure FOREVER, like in v1.
Forever is a very long time!
Jonathan chuckled as he thought about some of the things HE was tempted to trust in. And how long THEY would last. Trusting in his fences, that a clumsy bull could ruin in a moment. Trusting in his crops, that weeds or locusts or drought could destroy in a moment. Trusting in the health of our bodies, or the happiness of family, or the kindness of friends or neighbours. None of it could LAST. None of it was FOREVER.
EXCEPT for God. Except for his protection. Except for those who TRUSTED IN HIM.
(slide 8) Jonathan gazed out at the mountains in the distance. And the clear blue sky behind them. Stretching off into the distance.
And he tried to get his head around the idea of FOREVER. Bigger than big. Longer than long. What WAS over the horizon? And what was beyond THAT? And what was beyond THAT? HOW FAR could you go?
Or what about IN TIME? What happened after he died? A hundred years. A thousand years. A thousand thousand years. And God would hold him FOREVER.
What would THAT be like? …
The wicked will not remain
(pause) Jonathan took a deep breath, shook his head as if trying to empty the difficult ideas out of his mind. (slide 9) The animals in front had started moving again. And as they did, he could hear the people sing verse 3, and Jonathan understood something of God’s purposes.
3 The scepter of the wicked WILL NOT REMAIN over the land allotted to the righteous, for then the righteous might use their hands to do evil.
What a contrast! God’s people will endure FOREVER. But the wicked – even when they RULED – WOULDN’T REMAIN. God had them on a leash. Their time was short. All played out according to God’s timing. And God’s plans.
Jonathan nodded with confidence. The wicked were so SURE of themselves, so confident they controlled their own destiny. And wanted nothing to do with God. But he was the one who snapped them into line. Who cut them down to size.
It was great to be reminded of the comparison. Because on the SURFACE of things, it always looked like the WICKED would last forever, and the FAITHFUL who’d perish in an instant.
It was always tempting to just lower your standards a bit, to compromise, to soften your stance, to look the other way. Because surely THAT was the way to get ahead. To build your assets, and strengthen your position.
It was always tempting / to think that the way to BUILD your future was to put YOURSELF FIRST. When the reality was it was a solid commitment to doing things GOD’S way that was the way forward. The way to remain SOLID in the midst of storms.
That was the commitment the people around him were calling for as they sang. As they headed towards the end of the Psalm. The prayer for God to bless those who looked to him.
4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart. 5 But those who turn to crooked ways the LORD will banish with the evildoers.
And as he joined in the singing, Jonathan’s thoughts turned towards his family. To his kids, playing somewhere nearby. That God would do GOOD for them. Keep them solid and protected. Keep them pure and upright as they followed him.
And to Miriam. At home without him. Waiting for their new baby. He wanted God to WORK GOOD for her. A safe birth. A healthy baby. Protection from harm, surrounded by God.
And as he thought about them, Jonathan nodded his head in agreement, a frown of determination crossing his brow. Yes, he’d commit himself again to be UPRIGHT. Commit himself again to God the upright one. To turn away from his sin. To deal with people like his neighbours they way he SHOULD, not the way they DESERVED.
Because being protected and surrounded by God forever was the most important thing in the world. To not be shaken. To be solid.
And as the music slowed and got quieter, the people sang the final phrase. Shalom al Y’Israel. Peace be upon Israel.
That just about summed it all up. Shalom. Peace. Not just the absence of war. But rest, protection, comfort. Shalom was life at its BEST. Life with purpose, strength, richness, provision. Satisfaction. Life working the way God designed it. Live lived HIS way.
Those who trust in the LORD / ARE like Mt Zion which cannot be shaken but endure forever.
(slide 10) As Jonathan thought once more about those words, he came to the top of the final hill. He’d arrived at the imposing, solid walls of Jerusalem.
The main gates were crowded as people rushed in and out. Hurrying to get everything done before the feast. The dusty caravan of pilgrims eased their way through the gates into the teeming mass of buildings and stalls, people and animals.
(slide 11) And as he emerged on the other side of the gates, the noise and the smells of the crowded city assaulted his senses. Sweat, food, animals, shopkeepers yelling, hustle and bustle. It was overwhelming.
Then, over the noise, he heard a cry, JONATHAN. His eyes scanned the crowd. There, on the other side of the square, he saw the familiar face of his cousin Abraham. A huge grin, his eyes sparkling as he recognised Jonathan. His arms were filled with provisions for the night’s meal. So he couldn’t wave.
But Jonathan waved back. He assembled the kids, grabbed the donkey’s rope, and headed across the courtyard.
He could almost taste the feast already. Passover this year was going to be something special.
2 As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the LORD surrounds his people both now and forevermore.
As he hugged and kissed Abraham, he wished it was his wife Miriam he was hugging. But soon enough he’d be home, and the family would have grown by one. He prayed the words of the psalm for her one final time as Abraham led them down the busy street.
4 Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart… Peace be upon Israel.