TEXT: Psalm 80
TITLE: What in the World is God doing ?DATE: 26th May 2013
At the beginning of the year, and until now all our Home Fellowship Groups have undertaken a study on the subject of Evangelism. Evangelism is a core activity of our church and it is embedded in our Church’s Mission statement, because the Lord Jesus Christ has made it a priority for us when He said: “ Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Matt 28:19,20).
Following Pentecost I want to spend 4 Sunday mornings to speak from the Bible about the importance of being obedient to Christ’s missionary calling. We need to be continually committed to the process of self- examination with respect to all those areas to which our Lord Jesus has called us to be faithful, and to which the early church also showed a deep commitment. The church of Acts showed a deep commitment to worship centred around the Word of God , and to fellowship , to prayer, to observing the ordinances (breaking of bread and baptizing new believers) and to the spreading of the Word in terms of Evangelism and Missionary work (Acts 2 in particular and the book of Acts as a whole). Evangelism (bearing witness) by the power of the Holy Spirit was to be a core activity of the church.
Last week, on Pentecost Sunday we were reminded from Acts 1:1-11 (particularly v.8) that the Holy Spirit is a missionary Spirit, sending the disciples of Christ out into the world to be Christ’s witnesses. We exist to worship, and we exist to witness. From worship we move to witness. From the 7th day of worship we move into a six day week of work in which we are to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth , bearing witness by our life and with our lips that Jesus is our King. I know that some of you may be wondering about the fact that you see so few real conversions in these days. Some of you have been through a number of evangelism courses, but you have seen little fruit in response to your evangelistic labours.
Now be honest. In your quiet moments, do the following thoughts ever pass through your mind? “God what are you doing? We know that you are strong and mighty and majestic. You rule over everything. You hold the world in your hand. But how long are you going to leave us like this? We’re begging you for some growth, for strength. You know how it is. Numbers are stagnant, morale is flagging, the money is all over the place. We’re a joke. The world laughs at us. Every mistake and scandal, real or imagined, is raked over with glee …by the media. Is it that you are angry with us? When are you going to do something to turn this around? Because, don’t forget that the whole thing is your idea. You planted this vine in the first place – cleared the ground for it in the backyard, dug a hole … and we flourished. But now look at us! We’re being eaten alive. Restore us, O Lord, God of hosts! Let your face shine that we may be saved!
This is essentially a rephrase of the Psalm 80 which was written by Asaph at a time when Israel wasn’t doing well – spiritually, morally or physically. The glory days had gone. The heavens were like brass- “ how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers?” (v.4) God seemed distant and absent. The world was laughing at them (v.6).
The modern evangelical church can identify with these words in Psalm 80. While sports stadiums and shopping malls are springing out of the ground, bursting with enthusiastic sports supporters and shoppers, most churches struggle to keep their people focused on the kingdom of God. Those churches that do thrive mostly do so through pandering to the present culture and by entertaining the people. When people walk their dogs past our church on a Sunday morning, and when they hear the faints sounds of our singing, what do they think? “Man, this is where the action is! I am missing out on something here!” Somehow, I don’t think so. So, what is God doing in the world? The straight forward answer is this: He is still building His kingdom in the midst of this fallen humanity. So how come we don’t see it, is your next reply ? The answer to that is more complex and it is reflected in this 80th Psalm.
We learn from the Scriptures and from history that a people who has once received God’s Word and His favours, and who are then despising the means of His grace, ignoring God’s call to holy living and to being a missionary people in favour of the pursuit of their pleasures and idols – that these are left behind by the God who moves ahead with His missionary kingdom agenda. They are not only left behind, but they are left exposed to their enemies (see vv. 6,13,16)
Now God, the Shepherd of Israel and the good Shepherd of the church (Ps 80:1; Jn 10) has brought this nation, this people into being. In v.8 he uses another metaphor, “a vine” to describe Israel, which God had brought out of Egypt to be planted in Canaan. In pursuit of that goal He drove out the nations from Canaan. He made this nation to grow and prosper (vv. 10,11), particularly under the reigns of David and Solomon, and we all know how that all ended – first with the divided kingdom, and then with the exile of the respective kingdoms- the northern kingdom under the prophetic ministry of Isaiah (around 722 BC) and the southern kingdom under the prophetic ministry of Jeremiah (around 586 BC).
In v. 12 all hangs in the balance : “Why then have you broken down its walls….?“. It is at this low point in Israel’s history that Asaph calls upon God in prayer (Psalm 80:14-19 ESV) : “Turn again, O God of hosts! Look down from heaven, and see; have regard for this vine, the stock that your right hand planted, and for the son whom you made strong for yourself. They have burned it with fire; they have cut it down; may they perish at the rebuke of your face! But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name! Restore us, O LORD God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!”
From the Scriptures we know that God hears His people’s prayers when they cry out to Him with truly repentant hearts. He never forsakes His people- even when they sin. Though He cannot, because of His holiness, ignore their sin ( He must punish all their sin to remain holy and just), yet He is also committed to delivering His people from their sin. Those are twin truths about God that must never be separated !
In Psalm 27:9 David prays: “Hide not your face from me. Turn not your servant away in anger, O you who have been my help. Cast me not off; forsake me not. O God of my salvation.” Why would David have prayed such a prayer if he did not have the confidence in the character of God , of whom he knew that He did redeem and restore broken sinners? Every time David repented from His sin , God forgave Him. Every time the nation truly repents, God restores. He is indeed the waiting Father who welcomes the repentant prodigal son (Lk. 15:11-32). What is the basis on which He does it ? On the basis of ‘forgive and forget’? No! On the basis of His Son who gave His life to atone for our sin. Now verses 17 &18 become truly meaningful: “But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself! Then we shall not turn back from you; give us life, and we will call upon your name!
Now that the Son has come (and gone) , He has sent the Holy Spirit to continue to remind us of the person and work of Jesus, and not only that – He empowers us to continue the work that Christ began. He empowers us in this work of being effective witnesses in the world. This is what God is now doing in this world: Spirit directed gospel preaching and witness leads to the salvation of souls. This is God’s agenda. This is His focus. He is in the process of gathering His sheep like a Shepherd (Ps.80:1). It is happening in the world. The vine is growing and budding and producing a harvest. The kingdom never goes backwards. It always progresses and never regresses. The Word of God increases and spreads. That is the pattern of the book of Acts. Paul describes the progress of the gospel among the Colossians in the same way: “Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5-6).
Evangelical Christians speak a lot about church growth, but it is interesting how little the NT talks about church growth, and how often it talks about the spreading of the Word in the world. The focus is on the progress of the word of God in the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit through the people He uses as it makes its way in the world. The emphasis is not so much on the growth of the congregation in terms of their numbers, structures, ministries, finances or success. In fact, NT congregations, as far as we know were usually small groups meeting in homes. They were outwardly unimpressive, and had minimal infrastructure. But God kept drawing people into them by the gospel, and then sending them out with the gospel. Or to put it in another way, Christ kept doing what He said He would do in Matthew 16. He kept building His church.
1. We will never have to worry about whether the church will survive in this world. It has until now, and it will until Christ comes to make His reign visible. Christ builds His church. We (this church) may become cold and ineffective, like Israel was at the time when Asaph composed Psalm 80. But the kingdom of God will not fail.
2. The way in which God makes His church grow in the first place is by His Spirit through His Word. In that process He calls and empowers all believers to participate in this kingdom work. Next week we will be (God willing) look at this aspect and ask the question whether every Christian is an evangelist or a missionary.
3. The existence of the church is not dependent on buildings , activities, finances etc. These may actually hinder us. The only growth that is significant in God’s plan is the conversion of people and the growth of believers in worship , fellowship , prayer and the participating in gospel ordinances – baptism and the Lord’s supper.
4. What is our work? Our work is to join God in His mission. God has blessed us at Eastside and given us everything that we need. We have resources. We are being informed about the gospel needs in the world. We have the Word taught to us. We are encouraged to pray for this Word to spread. But we are not encouraged to sit on our treasures. You dear congregation are God’s trophies jewels and treasures. The church (like Israel in Psalm 80) loses its purpose when it becomes self absorbed. Then one day she wakes up (like Israel) and discovers that God no longer hears their prayers. She discovers that the enemy is within her. She discovers that she is the laughing stock of the nation. It is time of us to hear this. Join us in two weeks, on Monday 3rd to Wednesday the 5th as we examine ourselves and pray that we may keep in step with the Holy Spirit as He empowers us to be His effective witnesses in this world. Amen!
 Matthew 5:13-16
 The Trellis and the Vine : Tony Payne and Colin Marshall , Matthias Media , p. 29,30
 The Psalms of Asaph are Ps 50 ; 73-83. In the Old Testament there are three different men with the name of Asaph. The Asaph identified with these twelve Psalms is said to be the son of Berechiah which is said to be an ancestor of the Asaphites. The Asaphites are said to be one of the families of musicians in the Jerusalem temple. In the Chronicles it is said that Asaph was a descendant of Gershom the son of Levi; therefore he is identified as a member of the Levites. He is also known as one of the three Levites commissioned by David to be in charge of singing in the house of Yahweh. In 1 Chronicles 6:39 David appoints a man named Heman as the main musician or singer and Asaph as Heman’s right hand assistant and the Merarites at his left hand. Asaph is also credited with performing at the dedication of Solomon’s temple in 2 Chronicles 5:12.