Dear Friends in Christ,
A man went in for his annual checkup and received a phone call from his physician a couple of days later. The doctor said, “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.” “What is it?” “Well you have only 48 hours to live.” “That is bad news!” the shocked patient said. The doctor continued, “I’m afraid I have even worse news.” “What could be worse than what you’ve already told me?” the patient stammered. To which the doctor replied, “I’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.”
Nobody wants to get that kind of a phone call, but every year more than a few of us do. The end of a year is a perfect time to remember that our days are numbered, to take stock of where we are in life, and to chart a course going forward. As we study Psalm 90 tonight, I invite you to consider two important Bible truths, and then to take two particular actions.
The first truth we want to reflect on tonight is that God is our dwelling place in every chapter of life here and now and into eternity. Be still and take refuge in the simple and powerful truth that our God is one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth and of all things visible and invisible. Yesterday I counted the number of places where I have lived in my 60 years, and I came up with 12. An average of five years per place. An old farm house for 18 years was the longest, and a basement apartment in Willmar, MN for two weeks was the shortest. Five houses – three which have been torn down, and one which was moved.
Be still tonight, and understand once again how temporary all of our earthly tents and apartments and homes are. How foolish we are whenever we think of ourselves as owners instead of managers of all that we are and have.
We learn again from Moses on this New Year’s Eve what we will mark with the sign of the cross on Ash Wednesday – that from dust we came and to dust and ashes we will return. In contrast to God who was God before the mountains were ever brought forward, we are like a mist that appears for a moment and then is gone. In contrast to Jesus Christ who is the same yesterday and today and forever, we are here for a short time that is full of trouble, and then one day our souls fly away to God knows where. God’s eternity isn’t just endless time, it is independent from time. Moses writes that a thousand years in God’s sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night. That’s amazing, if you are still and think about it. A thousand years ago, the Normans hadn’t invaded England. Vikings were establishing small settlements in North America. Achinese artisan was inventing ceramic movable type printing. It was still the middle ages. For God that day was like yesterday. The bottom line of all of that is that God can be trusted. Through all the ups and downs, through thick and thin, in good times and in horrible times. He can be trusted. (Story of Nate and Ali driving 27 hours straight with three small children, from Florida to Minnesota, arriving at midnight, Ali’s first comment in answer to how was the journey, “the last four hours were kind of horrible!”)
Lesson #1 tonight was to reflect on and take refuge in the simple truth that God is our dwelling place here and now and even into eternity. Lesson #2 is to fall down on our knees in fear and trembling even as we rise up and live with a spirit of joy and gladness in this new year. On the one hand, Psalm 90 reminds us that our lives are short and difficult, and on the other hand God’s mercies are new and powerful every time the sun comes up. On the one hand, Moses writes, “You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.” On the other hand he writes, “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.
One of the sights I remember from the prairies of North Dakota was of flax fields blooming on a summer morning. By late morning, the beautiful blue had given way to a drab brown. It was beautiful for a brief time, and then not so much. Much of my summer time growing up was spent in the hayfield. Dad would mow green grass, and by the time I raked it into windrows, it was brown hay. Some of those days seemed long and hot and dreary, but now they all seem like a dream and a long time ago.
When Moses prays for God to make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil, he is praying that life’s joys will balance out life’s sorrows. That’s really a pretty good prayer, and here in little Janesville, MN, USA, isn’t it true that for everyone of us the good days have far outnumbered the really hard days? Tonight, Moses reminds us that life is short and full of trouble for a reason. Why? Because of God’s righteous anger towards sin, that’s why. Moses writes, “For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
Moses knew something about the wages of sin which was and is and ever shall be death. Moses had led 2-3 million sinners out of Egyptian slavery and across the Red Sea in miraculous fashion, and yet it wasn’t long before the grumblers began to grumble. God kept on forgiving and they kept on sinning. He kept on being patient, and they kept on losing their temper. God kept on showing mercy and they kept on rebelling. He kept on remembering His covenant promises, and they kept on forgetting how privileged they were to be the people of God.
This very night, we do bend our knees in full fledged fear and trembling before God, even as we rise up and live in full appreciation of divine grace, mercy, and peace. We cry out for mercy even as we celebrate that has already had pity on us in days gone by. We ask for wisdom on high tonight, that we would live as people whose days are numbered, even as we fix our eyes on the Holy One who was numbered on the cross with sinners. One last time this year, we kneel at our Lord’s Supper admitting that we have fallen short. One last time we hear and taste that our Lord is good and that His mercy endureth forever. One last time we rise up and go in peace one last time tonight we lay our heads on our pillows with the knowledge that our days are numbered praying the Lord our soul to keep and if I did before I wake I pray the Lord my soul to take, and this I ask for Jesus’ sake.
Teach us, O Lord that our days are numbered, that we may get a heart of wisdom. Andy Stanley tells the story of a man who bought 1300 marbles on his 50th birthday. He figured that, if he lives to be 75, he would have about 1300 Saturdays left. So every Saturday he goes and takes a marble out of that jar and throws it out. It’s a reminder to him that time is fleeting, and that he only has a short time left. I did some math today and at age 60 if live to be 80, I would need about 1,040 marbles to fill my jar. I just might do that.
I don’t know what you need to do, but how will you remind yourself this year that your days are numbered and that your life is short? Steven Paul "Steve" Jobs was an American entrepreneur, marketer, and inventor, who was the co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc. He died of pancreatic cancer at age 56. He once said, “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.
Jobs had rejected Christianity early in life and ended up as an atheist say some folks. Others say he was Buddhist. In any case, this is what he had to say about life in general, “I saw my life as an arc. And that it would end and compared to that nothing mattered. You’re born alone, you’re gonna die alone. And does anything else really matter?”
Jobs was one of a growing number of people who are bringing in the New Year apart from Jesus Christ. Jesus said it would be that way, 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
With that in mind, we close this sermon with a look at the final verses of Psalm 90. In these verses, Moses invites us to pray with the perspective that God is eternal and that life is short and full of trouble. He invites us to pray in three ways.
1) Pray that God would relent in his anger. / That God would not pay us what we deserve / That God would show us grace. He has. Jesus is Grace
2) Pray that we would be satisfied by God. C.S. Lewis wrote,”God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.” Pray that in this New Year our heart’s deepest hungers would be met in Christ / in the preaching of God’s Word, in daily devotions, in Lord’s Supper.
3) Pray that God’s favor would rest on our life together. That God would establish the work of our hands. That 2015 would be a year of maturing as disciples of Jesus Christ. That we would be following Jesus Christ in this place and be actively engaging in God’s mission to make disciples of all nations. That our lives would be transformed by the Gospel so that the culture around them is ultimately transformed.
One poet said it this way, “He came to my desk with a quivering lip. The lesson was done. Dear teacher, I want a new leaf, he said, I have spoiled this one. I took the old leaf, stained and blotted. And gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his sad eyes smiled. Do better now my child. I went to the throne with a quivering soul. The old year was done. Dear Father, hast thou a new leaf for me? I have spoiled this one. He took the old leaf, stained and blotted. And gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my sad heart he smiled. Do better now, my child."