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TEXT: Psalm 126

SUBJECT: Songs on the Way to Heaven #7

The teaching of Psalm 126 can be summed up in one word: tension. Not the stress you feel when you lose your job or you can't pay your bills, but the contradiction in the middle of every believer's life.

The composer of the hymn and the people who sang it keenly felt this tension. In vv.1-3 they praise God for ending their exile, but in vv.4-6, they ask Him to put an end to their exile.

When the Lord brought back the

Captivity of Zion.

Bring back our captivity, O Lord.

In vv.1-3, the people are dreaming, laughing and praising God, but in vv.4-6, they're begging, crying, and working their fingers to the bone.

So which is it? Were the people free or captive? Were they banished from the land or back in it? The fact of the matter is: both are true. The Babylonian captivity was over, the people were back in their land, but something told them they were still in bondage and not yet home.

From where we are in history, we know why they felt this way: their true captivity was not to the Babylonians but to their sins. The land of Israel was very dear to them, but they can only be satisfied with a better, that is a heavenly country. They were unsettled and unhappy and unsure because the Messiah had not yet come. This explains their tension and why they sang Psalm 126.

But why do we sing it with the same melancholy they had? The Messiah has come and by His death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out the Spirit, He has brought in the World to Come-the age Israel longed to see, but didn't. We live in what they thought of as The Golden Age, but it often seems more like lead to us than gold. Why is that?

Some of it is due to our ignorance and ingratitude. We don't know what our Lord has done for us, or we do know, but we are not thankful for what He's done. This accounts for some of our unhappiness, but not all of it.

The cause lies deeper than our bad theology and hard hearts, however. We feel the tension of being both captive and free at the same time because.we are both captive and free at the same time! From the bottom of our hearts, we can sing,

When the Lord brought back

[Our] captivity

And, at the same time, we can pray,

Bring back our captivity, O Lord.


Scholars have a name for the tension we feel: they call it Already/Not Yet. A careful reading of the New Testament will reveal a very surprising thing to you: Nearly all of the 'salvation' words are-in some places-present, and in other places-future. In other words, some verses say 'we already have them' and other verses say, 'we are going to get them'.

If this sounds like double-talk to you, it is exactly what the New Testament says, and not in one or two obscure places, but from start to finish.

On this point, I am very much indebted to Ardel Caneday and his book, The Race Set Before Us. In the second chapter of that book, he spends about forty pages listing and briefly expounding two sets of verses: some describe salvation as something we already have and other verses look it as something we don't have yet, but we will have when Christ comes again. I didn't count them up, but I'd guess he cites at least 30 or 40 verses. I'll give you a small sample:

For by grace are you saved, through faith, and that not of yourself, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

And you shall be hated by all men for My name's sake; but he who endures to the end will be saved (Matthew 10:22).

We have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7).

You have been sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:13b-14).

But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.(I Peter 1:9a).

Pursue holiness with which no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

But if I cast out demons with the finger of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you (Luke 11:20).

I charge you, therefore, before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom (II Timothy 4:1).

Put the verses together and this is what we come up with: Christians are both already saved and not yet saved; we are already redeemed and not yet redeemed; we are already holy and not yet holy; the kingdom has already come and it has not yet come.

Am I talking gibberish? No, far from it! We are saved, but not fully; we are redeemed, but not fully; we are holy, but not fully; the kingdom has come, but not fully!

This is where the tension comes from. This is why we can, in one prayer, praise the Lord for giving us every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, and then go on to ask Him for the spiritual blessings we lack and need so badly!

Like the Israelites back in the day, we are living in an Already/Not Yet world. This is what we have and what we expect to have until the Second Coming of Christ. When the Lord comes again, the tension will be relieved because the Not Yet will become the Already. On that day, the Kingdom will come in all its fullness, and with the Kingdom, the fullness of our salvation!

Our souls will be fully saved, and this means no longer subject to temptation or doubt or ignorance. Our bodies will be equally saved, and this means they cannot become instruments of sin, they won't grow old or get sick, and-best of all-they cannot die!

Our Lord said He came that [we] might have life and that [we] might have it more abundantly. While we have that life now, the abundance of that life comes later, when death is swallowed up in victory!


We need to accept life the way it is. J.R.R. Tolkien did not coin the term, Middle Earth. He borrowed it from the Medieval Church which saw the world for what it is-neither heaven nor hell-but the place in-between!

If we see the world this way, we can thank God for the good He sends our way without resenting Him for the things we'd rather not have. We will not become naïve or cynical, but we'll be what our Lord wants us to be and what He Himself was when He lived among us: we will be thankful, realistic, and patient.


This lesson is taught between the lines, I think, but the lines teach something more, a thing we're prone to forget when life is harder, slower, and more confusing than we thought it would be.

Those who sow in tears

Shall reap in joy.

He who continually goes forth weeping,

Bearing seed for sowing,

Shall doubtless come again with


Bringing his sheaves with him.

Life is like planting seeds-not in a cute little flower box-but on a big farm, in hard ground, under a stiff wind, with birds flying off with everything they can carry! Farming is labor-intensive, time-consuming, and as often as not, heart-breaking. Thus farmers are known for their grit and patience. Farmers don't sleep in when they're tired or take days off when they're depressed. They sow when the sowing is good, or they don't sow at all.

The hard work does not produce instant results. They don't plant a field on Monday morning and take in a crop that afternoon. No, months pass between the planting and the reaping-with plenty of work in-between. But if the work is hard, the reward is rich. A few bags of seed produced many acres of wheat. When the crop is laid in for the year, the man can look back on his work and be glad he did it.

This is the illustration. What it illustrates is the Christian life lived before the coming of our Lord. It is often a hard life, with many disappointments, and not much to show for your efforts.

Think of witnessing. If you're like most Christians, you've witnessed to far more people than you have won to the Lord.

Think of the effort you've poured into your children-the prayers you've prayed for them, the chapters you've read to them, the church services you taken them to, the example you've set, the discipline, the encouragement-all done in hope of their salvation, but they're not saved.

Think of your personal demons of lust or envy or covetousness or pride or gluttony of laziness or something else. You've confessed them to the Lord a million times, you've tried to resist them, you've taken counsel, you've gotten better for a time, only to slide back into your old habits.

The work is hard and the results are meager. You're tempted to quit trying. But then you remember the farmer, slogging on, day after day, weed after weed, bird after bird.and then the harvest.

Farmers work with plenty of hope, but no guarantees. The best kept farm can be wiped out with one night's freeze or one day's rain or even a bug he can hardly see or a parasite he can't see at all.

What the farmers don't have, Christians do have! We have a guarantee-and it comes from God-

Those who sow in tears

Shall reap in joy.

He who continually goes forth weeping,

Bearing seed for sowing,

Shall doubtless come again with


Bringing his sheaves with him.

There's a dear word-doubtless! Not maybe, possibly, probably, or almost for sure. But doubtless, without a doubt he will have the reward of his labor.

This is not the teaching of one Psalm only, but what the whole Bible teaches.

Let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap if we do not faint (Galatians 6:9).

Therefore, my brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, for you know your work is not in vain in the Lord ( I Corinthians 15:58)

Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord; they rest from their labors and their works do follow them (Revelation 14:13).

How then do we explain the fruitlessness of our efforts? You have done good, sincerely, and at great personal cost. But the good you did did no good. The sinner you witnessed to died in his sins; the missionary you gave to was supporting his mistress with your money. Wasted effort. Sowing without hope of reaping. That's what you've done. Or, so you think.

Every work for Jesus will be blessed the song says, but not necessarily in the way we expect. You meant one good to come from it, but the Lord meant another good. And you can be sure His good is better than yours.

God has put us in the world between the First and Second Coming of Christ. Be thankful for His first coming, for it was then, The Lord brought back the captivity of Zion. Pray for His Second Coming, for then, He will once and for all, Bring back our captivity.

But in the meantime. Work for Christ and work in hope. You won't be sorry you did!

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