Psalm 84:5-6 What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. When they walk through the Valley of Weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs.
On a walk, what we see in the distance can be quite different when we get close. Similarly in life, our reaction to what we see can change dramatically, when we get a different perspective. This is a story of how what appears one way, can turn out differently.
At certain times of year, groups would set out to Jerusalem to celebrate a festival at the Temple. They would walk on bad roads with hills, valleys and dangerous ravines, and they probably gave them nick-names, like we do.The psalm writer’s Valley of Weeping (Hebrew baka) could also be called the Valley of Poplars, a double meaning not lost on the original hearers.
Poplars grow close to water — so travellers in a dry, dusty country who saw poplars on the horizon would anticipate being able to drink.
There’s a deeper meaning here. The ones “walking through the Valley of Weeping” , are “on a pilgrimage“. So this is a picture of believers on a journey of faith, who (like all of us at times) have hit difficulties. Sometimes difficult times can be dry times — a sense of abandonment, nothing coming from the Lord, no fresh direction. The Valley of Weeping is the right name.
But the Valley of Weeping can be turned into the Valley of Poplars, and there’s running water in that valley. There’s a place to drink and be refreshed.
The place of “refreshing springs” is where the “times of refreshing” start, Acts 3:19. The psalm points to God’s greater purpose, which is always to bring spiritual renewal.
“Those whose strength comes from the Lord” are the ones “on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem” — walking with the Lord and knowing their destiny with Him. “For you,” the psalmist says, “the valley of tears will become the place of refreshing. Why? Because when we come to the end of ourselves with the Lord, we can find Him in a new way. He’ll let us struggle on for a time, but only so we find the place of refreshing — which we always do if we turn to Him.
At this season of Holy Week and Good Friday especially, we tell the story that we know so well, and find so difficult in the telling. But how well do we tell the story of what happened spiritually, behind the events recorded for us? We hear phrases like ‘divine exchange’ and the Saviour ‘dying in our place’, but do we understand it? We may have prayed the prayer asking Jesus into our life – and repeated it probably – but are we living in the fullness of it? Here is an attempt to explain the seven key blessings for us that come from a cursed and horrible execution. These have become the main strands of our new life, the eternal life secured for us by Jesus which starts now.
1. Our sins and due punishment were taken by Jesus on Himself
Jesus “carried our sins up to the Cross” – the literal meaning of “bore our sin” which Peter quotes from Isaiah:
“He himself BORE OUR SINS” in his body on the Cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by His wounds you HAVE BEEN healed.” 1 Peter 2:24. From Isaiah: “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all… He poured out His life unto death and was numbered with the transgressors. For He BORE the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.” Isaiah 53:6, 12.
In a way which is hard for us to grasp, the moral weight of our sin was laid on Jesus, who carried it – our personal sin included – to the Cross
2. The reasons for accusation cancelled
The devil’s name is ‘accuser’ and he never loses an opportunity of mounting an opportunity to accuse, whether he has a legal right to do so or not. But that legal right was taken away the moment Jesus gave up His life. The sacrifice to end all sacrifices was made. The price for us to be forgiven and brought back into relationship with God, had been paid. The sense of guilt, not being good enough, not accepted, under condemnation was broken, because the charges against us were cancelled:
When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the Cross. Colossians 2:13-14
Why do we still feel accused, feel condemned? We need to do two things. First, we make sure we have made Jesus our Lord and our lives are hidden in His – in effect, we went to the Cross with Him, died and then found new life in Him, as He did on the third day in the resurrection. Second, we tell the accuser he has no legal right to say those things! Speak out loud and remind him of all that happened on the Cross, and who he is trying to accuse now.
3. Our healing enabled, our reconciliation with God secured
By His wounds we HAVE BEEN healed, 1 Peter 2:24b. This is a healing of spirit, soul and body.
When Adam and Eve went their own way in the garden, following the incitement of the devil, Genesis 3, it caused a fracture, a wound, in the relationship with God. By Jesus’ action on the Cross, this fracture is mended and healed. As a consequence – the separation of spirit, soul and body is more of a human logical perspective than a heavenly one, and Hebrew thought sees much more integration – we can pray for and expect healing from every kind of affliction which impacts God’s perfect design.
4. Jesus pronounced His mission completed
When He had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, He bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30.
He had come to be “God with us”, the full representation of God in human form. “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father…” John 14:9-10. He had also come to defeat the devil: And having DISARMED the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the Cross. Colossians 2:15.
The final battle is yet to come. Meanwhile, we have an active and vindictive enemy, who has power, and especially the power to cause fear. However, having power, and having power over us, are two different things. In Jesus’ last words: “It is finished!” we can tell him about the blood (below). We can tell him he is a defeated enemy
5. Jesus gave up His life – the blood
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, He gave up his spirit. Matthew 27:50. Jesus has become, Himself, the perfect blood sacrifice for us.
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Hebrews 9:14, read in the context of Hebrews 9:7-15.
The price of our being redeemed, set free from our sin obligation, is more than any amount of silver or gold can purchase. It has been paid for by Christ’s blood: For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 1 Peter 1:18-19. The following verse tells us it was always planned that way.
6. The original covenants with Abraham and Moses for the Jewish nation, now became a new covenant for all who trust Jesus with their lives
At the moment of Christ’s death, a spiritual shift occurred — with signs accompanying. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. Matthew 27:51-52.
The massive temple curtain dividing off the holy of holies, where only the High Priest could go and only once a year, was destroyed. And with it the order of priesthood. Now, in Jesus, any believer can come into the presence of God and enjoy a relationship with the God who we call ‘Father’. This is a new kind of relationship where there is no need for an in-between person and no need for the rituals because Christ Himself has become our Great High Priest and called us all into a shared priesthood of all believers, where our lives are the spiritual sacrifices through us showing that we love Jesus, 1 Peter 2:5. This new and personal relationship a new and far better covenant than the one established by Moses and limited to Jews under the law.
In this new covenant the ‘law’ or the way of living that pleases God is something that the Holy Spirit leads us in – as Jeremiah said hundreds of years earlier, it is written on our hearts, Jer. 31:31 and 33. It is a new and better covenant, Hebrews 8:6-13 and the in-between person, or mediator, is none other than Jesus Himself. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. Hebrews 9:15, see also Hebrews 12:24.
This is a huge benefit and huge shift. Keeping the law was a complicated business, fraught with failure. Living for God, enabled and empowered by His Holy Spirit, is joyful and hopeful. Under the Old Covenant the law proved that man could not live righteously before God, and penalties were required. Under the New Covenant we literally receive constant coaching in how to live unselfishly and well, a fellowship of doing life together, with God and with other believers.
7. And the curse over us because of our sin was broken.
A curse in the Bible is the opposite of blessing. While blessing is a predisposition of well-being and in the broadest sense, prosperity, a curse is the opposite. It is not God’s hand on us, but the enemy’s hand against us. However, at the Cross, Jesus died not only the most horrendous and painful death imaginable, but also the most shameful. Roman crucifixion reserved for the lowest and most vile class of criminal and everything from the procession with the victim forced, like a slave, to carry the heavy cross bar, to the public and lengthy execution, served as a pillory of shame and warning to others. For a Jew is was especially shaming, as Peter reminds us in his choice of word for ‘cross’: “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the CROSS, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24
Similarly, in Acts: The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a CROSS. Acts 5:30. The word could be used for tree, beam, or wooden construction. Jewish readers in particular would be reminded of Deuteronomy 21:22-23“…Anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse.” Paul quotes this and explains the divine exchange that Jesus made for us: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” Galatians 3:13.
Where there is the sense that the enemy’s hand is against us — chronic or unexplained sickness, ongoing and irrational difficult — we might need to make a firm declaration stating that we are in Christ, and Christ has been made a curse for us, and therefore so this ground for oppression is removed.
In Jesus’ words earlier: To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to My teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will SET YOU FREE… If the Son sets you free, you will be free, you will be free indeed. John 8:31-32 and 36.
Giving your life to Jesus, as He gave His life for you
So much was accomplished for us in those hours of torture and abandonment on the Cross. But to be free, to live in the benefit of Jesus’ shed blood, healed, redeemed accepted and free from condemnation, we need to be among “those who had believed Him“, above. Giving your life to Jesus means accepting the exchange in which He gave His life, lit early and painfully, for us. Our acceptance of that fact is our intentionally giving the charge of our lives to the Saviour, accepting what He has done for us that we could not do or ourselves, and calling Him our Lord.
An important ‘Maundy Thursday’ verse is the promise Jesus made just after the Last Supper: “No, I will not abandon you as orphans — I will come to you.” John 14:18 NLT
Let’s put that promise together with an older, enduring promise and encouragement to “Wait for the Lord”. This is is a more active and positive kind of waiting than it sounds at first:
13-14 I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. No, I will not abandon you as orphans — I will come to you. Psalm 27:13 NIV, John 14:18 NLT
“I must… increase my trust.’
“Wait” means to trust that what is awaited, will take place. Our local 461 bus service is known for its friendliness – and reliability. To wait, in this sense, is to be in a positive attitude about the bus still appearing round the corner and picking me up, even though it feels late – even abandoned.
“Wait” means to be ready for action — as the young girls were to be ready with lamps burning bright, expecting at any minute the bridegroom’s arrival (also a story from this season). We are charged with being ready for the Lord’s coming. It might be His final coming, heralding the end time. It might be His ‘coming through’ in response to the prayer. It might be His fresh word to us at this time. His covenant responsibility is — to do the coming. Ours — is to do the waiting in expectation.
“Wait” means to be thanking, not asking.Asking for the bus to arrive — or for what is needed — is not wrong unless we cannot move on from asking. Asking starts at the point of our anxiety that it might not. Thanking God, and raising Him for His covenant faithfulness “I will never leave you or forsake you” — starts at a different point. “Wait” means a response for who the Lord is, which is praise. It is an intentional choice NOT to respond to the circumstance — what we feel the Lord has or hasn’t done, recognising or limited perspective.
In the spiritual realm there can be many hold-ups and frustrations. We have an enemy who is intent in spoiling God’s goodness, causing us discouragement and provoking us into sin by blaming God, when all the time the problem was on our side. WE didn’t pray. We didn’t wait. We didn’t exercise faith. We lapsed into ‘poor me’ when the psalmist encouragement to “wait” would be to praise God who has heard my prayer.
“Wait for the Lord” is a choice to believe, and live as one trusting the Lord’s promise never to fail us or abandon us, but to be with us and come to us.
“Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord… who will never fail you… never abandon you.” Psalm 27:14 and Hebrews 13:5
Prayer of blessing especially for small businesses and owners
Lord God, You are good, always working Your good purposes out above and beyond the difficulties that are confronting us. You tell us that a grain of faith is effective against a difficulty that seems the size of a mountain. So we come before You today on behalf of all in cash flow difficulty while their businesses are on hold or restricted.
We bless with Your blessing our neighbourhood businesses, our friends’ businesses, the businesses we rely on and that serve our community. We say with them, that “Yours is the greatness… because everything in heaven and earth is Yours… wealth and honour come from You… In Your hands are strength to give strength.”
We bless with Your strength our small businesses and those who serve through them.We bless them with different ways of operating, and new sources of income, known to You if not yet known to us.
May they, together with everyone, be prompted to turn to You and acknowledge You as helper and provider: “I lift up my eyes to the hills – from where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord…“
On earth we are constantly hearing bad news but we choose to tune in to heaven’s channel, because Your word to us always brings good news of Your good intentions, and we choose to be influenced by what You say.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Here’s a Bible study on the quotations above. God has given us His enduring word, the Bible. He also speaks His ‘now’ word to us, and it usually comes through what we already on the record, the Bible.
This simple Bible reading guide by Leslie Ann Jones has readings for each day in Holy Week, Palm Sunday to Easter Day, to read, pray and reflect . The readings are on links you can simply click through.
Ezekiel in a vision was told to ‘speak forth, in faith’ to dry, dead bones – which then came alive. With a relationship through Jesus, we can hear God’s call and respond to it with our words, backed up by heaven. We can speak “life” and bring change to situations the Lord shows us.
1-3 The hand of the Lord was on me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, “Son of man, can these bones live?”
I said, “Sovereign Lord, You alone know.”
4-6 Then He said to me, “Prophesy [speak forth in faith] to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the Lord! This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’ ”
What’s the message for us today?
Resuscitation and ventilation are words we are hearing a lot at during this current epidemic. Doctors and nurses must be feeling “harassed and helpless”, in Jesus’ words, because very poorly and infectious respiratory patients need a lot of hospital time and skill.
Jesus’ words are in Matthew 9:35-36 NIV and they are in the context of the Lord’s compassion for those struggling with sickness:
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
We are not without a shepherd. We have Jesus, God’s Son and by our choice, our Saviour, who is full of compassion, and whose rule, or kingdom, is the very opposite of epidemic sickness, fear and hopelessness. And in Jesus we have His Holy Spirit in us – the power that raised Jesus from the dead, the power to bring life and hope.
The fear all around us today, is that death is stalking us and that we have no answers. But that’s a lie: we look to a God who sent His Son as Saviour to conquer death, and to offer us new life in Him.
We can address that fear thought and name it for what it is. “Fear, I speak you as one who is in Christ Jesus. You do not rule me – He does. You are a lying thought, sent by the father of lies, and I stop you right there. My shepherd is the Prince of Peace and the Victor of the Cross and so I disarm you and banish you now, to go to His feet. I call down life and peace to occupy the ground that was held by fear, and to hold that ground for the Lord of life and peace. Amen.”
Ezekiel saw at first a picture of hopelessness. He saw the bones of the defeated army of his ancestors and the reason for his exile. It was not a nice picture. But God doesn’t leave him there — He instructs him to do something about that picture, to change it.
He is to speak over the bones, to literally speak life — physical and spiritual life — into them. Today, we have a similar role. To use our words of faith to bring God’s kingdom order, especially where the enemy’s disorder is staring us in the face.
Our God is the definition of love. He is also a giver of life, and wants to draw us in to partner with Him, as He did with Ezekiel.
• What is the good news here?
We may feel harassed and helpless, but we are NOT sheep without a shepherd – Jesus is our shepherd and that gives us confidence. And equips us to act.
• What is our take-away?
You may have made that choice many years ago, but you can tell Jesus again today that You want Him to be your shepherd and Saviour – and your voice of truth against all the lies and fears trying to dominate your thinking. His life in you makes you a lifegiver!
Ezekiel, in his vision, had to trust God and do what He said. Are we prepared to do that?
Ezekiel was shown a picture of complete hopelessness. He was challenged to confront that picture and see it with God’s eyes. What is God saying to us about how we see the present epidemic and its sufferers?
What is the “word of the Lord” i.e. what is the Holy Spirit saying about the “dead bones” of national faith and our spiritual awakening to see this frightening epidemic situation from God’s perspective?