In our journey with God there is a “now and not yet” quality to it. We have a foretaste of our salvation, but we do not yet have it in its fullness. We have the story of Jesus’ first coming, but there is still a lot of mystery about the time He comes again.
Psalm 80 hearkens back to the frustration of those who waited for the arrival of Jesus, who cried out to God, begging Him to send His Messiah in the midst of sorrow, anger, and suffering.
17 Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.
19 Restore us, Lord God Almighty;
make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.
This is a Psalm of lament crying out Yeshua, crying out for God to intervene now, to save us. Yeshua is Jesus’ name in Hebrew. In light of what we know now about God’s salvation, it seems so fitting that Yeshua is both the giver and the gift we are waiting for. This Psalm repeating “save us” over and over again was whispering Jesus’ name in mysterious ways the human author could hardly have imagined. It is a cry from the heart for God to break back into our stories, to rescue us from the inescapable trap of the sin of the world.
The Psalmist cries RESTORE us! Knowing you are in need of restoration is to know that you are missing something without Jesus in your life. It is that longing to be complete, to find the peace we are searching for. To find God filling that “God-shaped hole” in our lives, or as Augustine put it, “our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.” May we find ourselves recognizing this Easter season that plastic eggs and grass—even spending time with our families— as wonderful as these things as are, are never be enough to satisfy our yearning for something more in our relationship with God. So often the peripheral things can eclipse the focus on Jesus’ resurrection. May we find the answer to our deepest desires in remembering that the empty cross and empty tomb point us to our coming of our savior, knowing that the best is truly yet to come as we stand before God face to face.
Another cry of the psalmist is REVIVE us! A part of us is asleep without Jesus; purposeless, and adrift. Even if all the pieces are there, sometimes we need that spark from God to fan our hearts aflame once again. When someone is passed out drunk to the point that they might as well be in a coma, there is an expression for that I often heard on the construction site. We call a person in that state “three sheets to the wind.” It means they are so out of it that they don’t even notice they have lost some things that matter. For some of us, three sheets to the wind might describe our spiritual walk. We are unaware of how God is moving in us and around us.
We had this big window in a house I lived in, and birds would not see the glass and try to fly through the house. We would hear this big THUNK now and then, and know that a bird had hit the window. There was a big fat cat outside just waiting to hear that noise. Sometimes the bird would break its neck and die instantly, but we noticed that if we went outside and rubbed the bird’s feet it would sometimes be revived the bird and it would fly away to safety.
Jesus picks us up like that. He wakes up the sleeping parts of our souls and gives us new purpose, and new direction. Sometimes our salvation isn’t from a life like mine with a propensity for self destruction, it is a salvation from wasting our lives. From sleepwalking onward…just going through the motions of a mediocre life. It is salvation from a ‘low-stakes spirituality’ where ultimately we never put ourselves in a position to trust God, where we mistakenly think it is all up to us.
God’s story of salvation for the world is the story of an all-out rescue mission. We can see the gospel hinted at in the first verses of this song:
Hear us, Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock.
You who sit enthroned between the cherubim,
shine forth 2 before Ephraim, Benjamin and Manasseh.
Awaken your might;
come and save us.
This is a prayer for the great Shepherd of Israel, to come out from the holy of holies and get His hands dirty. To enter into the brokenness of the world and make it right. To come like the mighty right hand of God’s justice and lift us out of desperate struggle we find ourselves in. This psalm is a prayer that reached far beyond the imagination of the Psalmist. It pointed us to Yeshua, to salvation embodied in Jesus Christ. It pointed us to God’s great story of redemption that was nothing less than the God “enthroned between the cherubin” awakened in a human body and coming to save us in the flesh. This prayer was answered, but not without a lot of hoping and waiting for the fullness of God’s plan to be revealed.
Hopefully this Easter season and approaching Pentecost, we can recognize our need for God, our longing for God to save us in one form or another. The psalmist references the story of Joseph in the Genesis. He says, “you who lead Joseph like a flock” All throughout the Old Testament story of Joseph he has some pretty big setbacks along the way. He gets thrown in a hole, threatened with death, sold into slavery, thrown in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Yet God is behind the scenes pulling the strings, putting Joseph into a position of power he never would have imagined for himself.
Near the end of his life, Joseph is reconciled with his brothers who sold him into slavery. He has this moment of revelation where he realizes that God’s hand was behind it the whole time, that all of this was orchestrated by God to save his family from famine… He says to his brothers, what you intended for evil, God intended for good. What a wonderful foreshadowing of the Easter story!
Having God as our shepherd does not mean that nothing bad will ever happen to us. It doesn’t mean we will never lament, or shake our fist at God. But it does mean that in the end we will see God’s purposes in it. We will see how God used even the lowest points in our lives for His glory. Salvation isn’t just about having arrived. Sometimes it means slowly moving in the right direction, but moving with God rather than against Him.
The Psalmist also points to the future glory of Jesus. He writes:
“Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand,
the son of man you have raised up for yourself.
18 Then we will not turn away from you;”
This future son of man who sits at the right hand of the Father is Jesus, the one who saves that would be lifted up before a watching world. He would come under the power and authority of God himself and save His people once and for all. He would bring a salvation we would not turn away from… He would come and do for us what we could not do for ourselves. This is the big story of redemption. It is the story of God stepping into human history to save a people crying out for restoration.
It is sometimes easy to lose our focus in the holiday seasons—and this is just as true for pastors—to drift away from what matters. To misplace our hope in hopeless things, yet God, like a Shepherd, nudges us back into the right direction. He restores and revives us. He challenges us to become fully alive and fully recreated in God’s image.
As we wait for our fulfillment of the promises of Easter, do still we look for the Lord’s face to shine on us? Where are we still restless because we are not resting in Him? As we find ourselves celebrating and waiting, it is always worth asking ourselves if the focus of our waiting is on the hurry and hassles of minor things, or the richness of the promises we have in Jesus and His resurrection.