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TEXT: Psalm 121

SUBJECT: Songs on the Way to Heaven #2

If you look at our Trinity Hymnal, you'll find the hymns arranged under theological headings (the glory of God, the death of Christ, and conflict with sin, for example). It's laid out this way because, for the most part, Presbyterian and other Reformed Christians don't follow the church calendar. But if you go to a Lutheran or Episcopal Church, you'll see the hymns organized by date-Advent hymns for Christmas, Resurrection hymns for Easter, songs of repentance for the Lent, and so on. Which is better for us is a matter of opinion-and not the topic I want to pursue this morning.

Like the more liturgical churches, Israel organized its life around the holidays God gave them in His Law. Three or four times a year they went to Jerusalem to observe the Passover, Pentecost, and other festivals. If you look at a topographical map, you'll see the city is way up in the mountains, and thus the people traveled uphill to get there. As they made their way to the Temple they chanted a set of Psalms-Psalms 120 to 134, it was. From the occasion of their use, the Psalms got a name; they are Songs of Degrees or Ascents. For Israel, they were sung on their way to the Temple in Jerusalem.

For us, they're sung on our way to the Temple of which the other one was only a model. For us, they're Songs on the Way to Heaven. We are not vagabonds; we are pilgrims! Though our lives often seem like a maze or maybe a wheel going round and round and never getting anywhere, this is only what they seem to be. In fact, our maze is God's straight line, and the wheel we're on is taking us somewhere. Believers in Christ are going to heaven! Not some of us, but all of us; not maybe, but for sure; not because I say so, but because God says so!

The Lord shall preserve thy going out,

And thy coming in;

From this time forth,

And even forever more.


Psalm 121 begins on a real downer:

I will lift up my eyes unto the hills-

From whence comes my help?

The hills he was looking at were the ones ahead of him, on his way to the Temple. If nothing is more exhilarating than a steep mountain underneath you, nothing is more dispiriting than the same mountain above you. It's a long way to Jerusalem and uphill all the way. Worn out in body and soul, our man can only cry out, 'Who's going to help me up the mountain?' The implied answer is: no man is going to do that because everyone is as tired and bummed out as he is.

Have you ever climbed up Mission Peak? If you have, you know the last half-mile or so is pretty steep. You'll see a lot of things up there, but piggyback rides won't be one of them! When climbing to Jerusalem-like Mission Peak-every man must bear his own burden! And our man is not sure he's up to it.

As if the grade were not bad enough, he names other things that are against him, among which are the sun, the moon, the earth, dangers in the night and evil things in general.

The sun could smite him by day with sunstroke or heat prostration, and the moon could smite him by night. While I've never heard of a 'moonburn', nearly all ancient peoples believed a full moon could drive you mad or make others crazy or stir wild animals against you. Our word, 'lunatic', you know, comes from the Latin word meaning, 'moon'. And there may be something to that-even if it's all in our heads.

Add to this the danger of his foot moving-not by walking, of course, but by slipping off a mountain and breaking his neck. Then there are all the dangers of night, both human and animal. Lions, bears, wild dogs, and other dangerous animals came out at night.

And, in case he missed something, he worried about other evils on the road, and also, back home where nobody was watching the place. New Year's Eve is the best night of the year to burglarize a house because most people are out. Well, everyone was gone at Passover, too, and so what better time to break into a man's house, rustle his cattle, and tear up his vineyard?

Back in the Law, God told His people to go up to the festivals without worry because He would take care of their homes in their absence. This, of course, was on the condition they were obedient to Him. But for most of their history, they were disobedient, and so they were more likely to be cursed than blessed.

Our man, therefore, was not a coward or a neurotic, but had every reason to be worried about the trip to Jerusalem.


If his pilgrimage was a long and dicey one, ours is far longer and beset by many more dangers. Christians have often grouped the dangers under three headings: the flesh, the world, and the devil.

The flesh is not our bodies, but rather our old desires and habits. Some are easy to point out-heavy drinking, sleeping around, criminal actions, and so on. Others, however, are a bit more subtle, in fact, so subtle that they're often mistaken for good things. A party spirit can look a lot like zeal for the Lord and love for the truth. Worry often goes by concern. And escapism? That can look like Bible reading, prayer, taking care of your family, staying in shape, innocent hobbies, you name it! Old desires and habits are dead set against you reaching heaven.

The world does not mean 'the earth' or 'things made out of matter', but life without God at the center of it. John says, Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world, for all that is of the world-the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life-are not of the Father, but are of the world. Worldly things don't have to be against the law or against nature or dirty, despicable and shameful things. They can be something as innocent as the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, and the pleasures of this life. All engaged, sought, and enjoyed without God at the center.

The devil is a Spirit, made by God innocent, powerful, and wise but now guilty, powerful and cunning. His name is Satan, which means the adversary-the enemy of God, angels, and you! By his brilliant scheming, he blinds people to the things that matter most, while opening their eyes to things that matter less. He perverts good things into bad. He promotes fornication, for example not because sex is bad, but because it's good in its place, which is marriage. Sandpaper is good, for sanding tables, but it makes for mighty uncomfortable napkins!

All of these things are working-day and night, everyday-to keep you from going to heaven. Like the Psalmist, our discouragements are real!


Without ignoring the real problems of life, our man puts his confidence in God.

My help comes from the Lord!

Why would he feel this way about the Lord? His trust is supported by three Divine attributes-power, love, and reliability. What God does he trust?

My help comes from the Lord,

Who made heaven and earth.

If the powers against him are real, so is the Power that is for him. If the powers are great, they're nothing in comparison to the almighty power that made the universe without lifting a finger! Because we're not used to miracles and fear presuming on God, we forget and minimize what He can do for us, and what He will do for us if we ask Him in faith. There's a hymn we often sing,

Thou art coming to a King,

Large petitions with thee bring.

We feel as though asking for big things may displease the Lord. But why would that be so? What if you appeared before the most powerful king in the world, a man also known for his generosity, and asked him for...a stick of gum? Would that please him? Why I can give you a stick of gum! A bum can rustle up enough money for that! Why would you waste the King's time with a thing like that? You honor that King-not by asking him for the smallest favor, but by asking him for something only he can give!

God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth is for us! That's why we navigate the storms of life and reach harbor we set out for-

Safe into the haven guide,

O receive my soul at last.

If the power of God is for us, so is His love. The key word in Psalm 121 is 'keep'. It appears seven times in the Hebrew (though two of them are translated, 'preserve')-

He who keeps you...

He who keeps Israel...

The Lord is your keeper...

The Lord shall preserve you...

He shall preserve your soul...

The Lord shall preserve your going

Out and your coming in...

Why would a man 'keep' something? Why would he keep his money in a safe? Why would he keep his daughter away from the wrong kind of men? Why would he keep the door locked while the family sleeps? It's because he loves them. That's why you preserve a thing, because you want to keep it, because it's worth something to you, because you love the thing.

God keeps us for the same reason. Under the Old Covenant, Israel was called His Peculiar treasure above all peoples. God cared for every nation, but there was only one Israel. A good man can love many women, all women, in fact, but he loves his wife best, in a way he loves none other. Because Israel was united to God by an imperfect covenant, they could fall away from Him, and they did. But the Covenant that unites us to God is the one ratified by the blood of God Himself! This means we are, in fact, what Israel was only in prospect, His very own people, His special treasure, the apple of His eye.

We muddle our way to heaven-and get there-because the Lord loves us with an everlasting love, a love that cannot fail-

For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Infinite power and love do us no good if the One who offers them is unreliable. What good is my promise to be there for you if I cannot be counted on to keep it? A liar's promise is worse than no promise. And, even if God is not a liar, you cannot rely on Him if He's forgetful or scatterbrained or always changing His mind. There's a proverb to this effect-

Confidence in an unfaithful man in time of trouble is like a bad tooth and a foot out of joint.

But God is not forgetful or scatterbrained or changeable! And, in case you need Him late at night, it's good to know-

He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep.

Believer in Christ: You're going to make it to heaven because God loves you and He will provide everything you need to get there. You need faith, and that's the gift of God. You need repentance, and God has granted you repentance unto life. You need endurance, and He will give you that until you don't need it any more. He who has begun a good work in you will continue it until the day of Jesus Christ.


Because God is for us, we're going to heaven. You need to remember that, even when it seems impossible. In fact, that's when you most need to remember it: when your sins seem too bad and your problems seem too big, that's when you need to recall Psalm 121! As foolish and sinful as I am,

My help cometh from the Lord,

Which made heaven and earth!

Because God is for us, our problems are not as bad as they seem to be. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying your problems are not real or serious. But they're not as serious as you think they are because: they're not keeping you out of heaven! They sting you, they make you cry, they make you wonder how you're going to get through them, but they don't take Christ away from you, the forgiveness of sin, or the resurrection of the body.

Because God is for us, our problems end up helping us to heaven. That's not what the flesh, the world, and the devil have in mind! They designed the problems to keep you out of heaven. But God turns them around for you-

All things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are called according to His purpose...

For this light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working in us an eternal weight of glory.

I'd be lying to you if I told you I always believe these verses; in fact, I don't always believe them. My every little molehill looks like Mount Everest to me. But whether we believe them or not, the will of God is sure, and our problems will help us on our way to heaven.

Because God is for us, and because He is unchanging, He will always be for us-

From this time forth and even forevermore.

This is a song you can sing on your way to heaven!

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