Series: Stand-Alone Sermons
Change is part of this life, but is there anything firm that we can rely on through it? This Psalm shows us there is.
I’ve mentioned that today is our last Sunday gathering for worship here at the Boys Choir building. “Lasts” are often bittersweet, and this one is no different. We’ve seen God do a lot of good in this building. Many of us are here because we’ve liked being a church that gathered in this building; now that is changing. And it comes at a time where plenty of other things change: In our world today, people change where they live, change jobs, change friendships, and sometimes even change spouses or significant markers of their identity. The past year and a half since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out forced several changes on all of us, and it can be very disorienting. We’re going to see in these four verses from Psalm 103 that such instability in this life is, to some extent, unavoidable. But we’re also going to see that Through the fragility of life, God’s love is firm. So we’ll talk about the fragility of life, the firmness of God’s love, and the recipients of God’s love.
The fragility of life
David spent the first part of the Psalm focused on God, saying what he is like. Now he turns to man and says that man’s days are like grass. How are man’s days like grass? The first way is that man flourishes like a flower of the field. A flower begins as a mere seed, and then grows until it blossoms, and when it blossoms, it is flourishing. So too, humans flourish. We begin as a small seed of sorts when a sperm fertilizes an egg. Then we progress in the womb through the various fruit sizes the pregnancy app tells you about, we’re born, we crawl, we walk, we learn, and eventually we’re fully grown adults, flourishing with strength. However even here, there is a note of tragedy. With every advancement to a new stage, there is a loss of the previous. There is a reason many parents cry on their kids’ first day of school, even as they rejoice. While something beautiful is gained, something beautiful is also lost. They’ll never be a baby or a toddler again. The real tragedy, though, and the ultimate source of fragility, comes next in verse 16: The wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more.
Our days are like grass: Just like a flower, we start small and grow to the height of our vigor, but then with a mere gust of wind, we’re gone, and our place knows us no more. The direct reference here is to death. Sometimes the wind blows before the flower blossoms when young children die. Sometimes the wind blows when the flower seems to be flourishing most. And sometimes the flower fades over time until the day the wind comes and blows it away. It doesn’t take much, really; there are countless ways to die. We’re compared here to a flower of the field, not to a cultivated plant in a green house, sheltered from the wind, or to a strong stalk of corn, which needs a combine to harvest it. A simple wind will do. The British preacher Charles Spurgeon, speaking in a pre-COVID world, but a world acquainted with even deadlier plagues and diseases, commenting on this verse, said, “No need of sword or bullet, a puff of foul air is deadlier far, and fails not to lay low the healthiest and most stalwart son of man.” And indeed, the wind carrying COVID-19 over the past year plus killed over 600,000 Americans and many more globally. Whatever the way in which the wind blows, at some point, and in some way, it blows, the flower is gone, and its place knows it no more. Every human’s days include the day they die, and they don’t come back.
And isn’t that often the most painful part? Its place knows it no more. The dead don’t come home again. They don’t sit in their chair anymore at the dinner table, they aren’t there at Christmas, they don’t come back to the office. And eventually, their place forgets all about them. How many people once walked the land on which we are now gathering, whose names we’ve never heard? And then prior to death there are countless mini-deaths, countless last times you didn’t know were the last time, countless ways in which the wind blows, and suddenly your place knows you no more. Many of you have moved in your life; don’t you hate it when you go home and your favorite spot isn’t there anymore? They changed it, and they never asked you! The pizza shop I grew up going to is under different ownership now; I used to know the owner and the employees, but now that place knows me no more. Others of you grew up in Philadelphia and have watched it change around you. New neighbors move in and in many cases don’t even take the time to meet you. Suddenly your own neighborhood knows you no longer, and you never even left!
If you come here next Sunday morning, you’ll find that just like that, this place knows us no more. None of our stuff, none of our people, will be here. And we liked it here. Those are the hard changes, right? When the flower is kinda lame, the wind can be welcomed: Blow me to another field, please. But when you like something, when you get into a season where you feel like you really belong, where you have an active sense of the goodness of God, when you see Him working in your life and the lives of others, it’s natural to not want that wind to blow. But here’s the catch: It will. You’ll enter a new life stage, or the people around you will. You’ll move, or they will. You’ll stay, but the neighborhood will change. You’ll change jobs, your co-worker will change jobs, your company will get sold. Your church will change. We have 106 members currently, and only 13 of us were members on day one. Four of those are in the process of transitioning out too. So if your plan in life is to kind of engineer it to maximum happiness, I hate to break it to you: Even if you achieve it, it won’t last. You can’t plant your roots deeply enough to stop the wind from blowing you away.
So when change does happen, when the wind does blow, don’t panic as if something strange were happening. Change is part of the human condition. Our lives are fragile. Nonetheless, it is natural to resist that on some level. The fact is, we do want to be happy not just today, but for all of our days, and we want our days to last. We want something to be firm, and while we need to adjust our expectations of achieving that firmness on earth, we don’t need to give up all hope. There is something firm even though our lives are so fragile, and verse 17 tells us about it: But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children.
The firmness of God’s love
When you see that word “steadfast love” in the Old Testament, it’s translating a word that refers to God’s covenant love. Covenant love, by its nature, is as firm as the character of the one making the covenant. Covenant love is promised love: It’s a commitment from one party to another, wherein the party covenanting commits to give him or herself to the other, for the good of the other. When God commits Himself to a people in that way, that love is firm. It is grounded on the commitment of the one who Himself never changes, never lies, and never fails to keep His promises. And so it is from everlasting to everlasting.
And in these two ways it is unlike our lives. Remember that we flourish like a flower of the field, beginning at some point in time and then growing to full bloom. But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting; it has no beginning, and no interval of time in which it is still growing until it flourishes. God is love; before there was anything else, God the Father loved God the Son in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. There was never a time when that love was not. Love is just as essential as God Himself, because God is love. But this text says even more than that. It says His covenant love is from everlasting. That’s His love for us, His people. That love existed before the earth and the world did. It existed before we did. The book of Ephesians puts it this way: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world…In love He predestined us for adoption to himself.” In other words, He loved you when you existed only in His mind. And the love He then expresses in the words of the covenants that He makes with Abraham and his offspring, with Moses and his offspring, with David and his offspring, David the author of this Psalm, are not the beginnings of covenant love with them. They are rather the revelation of a covenant love that is without beginning.
And so His steadfast love is from everlasting, but it is also to everlasting. Our days are like grass because we grow up and flourish like a flower; God’s love does not. But our days are also like grass because when the wind blows on us, we are gone, and our place knows us no more. God’s love is not like that either. It is to everlasting. There is no wind that can move it. It is without beginning and without end, and that makes sense based on what we’ve already said, right? God is without beginning and end, God is love, and God set His love on us before He created us. How, then, could He ever stop loving us? If you think God started loving you at some point, when you were born, when you were baptized, when you started obeying the rules, when you started going to church, when you got serious about your faith, when you joined a church, when you volunteered at a shelter, marched in a rally, etc., which most of us wouldn’t say, but which we do functionally live like at times, if God’s love started and grew over time, guess what God’s love can also do? Diminish and die over time, especially if you fail to obey the rules sometimes, or struggle with doubts, or wander from the church, or end up on the wrong side of a cause. Isn’t that why our lives, our identity even, our happiness, feels so fragile?
But if God’s love had no beginning, if it’s rooted in a covenant with no beginning, made by the one who never changes and never lies, then it cannot possibly have an end. It is as eternal and unchangeable as God Himself. Now that is something firm. If you want to be happy not just for a day, but for all the days to come, if you want to build your identity on something firm, this is the only safe place to do it. We don’t know what to expect this coming Sunday. We don’t know how many people will come, which people will come, how it will sound, how 8:30 will feel, how it will work with Highway coming in after us, how the kids will like the new rooms, but we do know this: The steadfast love of the LORD will be there. And whatever changes you anticipate in your future, you can know that too. Your place will one day forget all about you; He never will.
Not only that, but He will replace you on earth. Verse 17 goes on to say that His righteousness is to children’s children. Righteousness is a word that means covenant-keeping. The idea is that God will not only keep His covenant love upon you, but upon your children and their children as well. Though your place may forget about you, your children will take your place, and God will continue loving them. And yes I will say something a bit later about how this applies to those of you who don’t have kids, but one great source of anxiety for Christians who do is whether their children will grow up to know and serve the same God they love and serve, but texts like this give us reason for great hope. As God has committed Himself to love you, He’s committed Himself to love generations after you. As you pray for and with your kids, as you teach and discipline them according to God’s Word, do so with faith in God’s willingness to use such things, not with fear that He won’t.
Nonetheless, it is a fact attested in Scripture and experience that not every human, not even every child of ours, receives God’s love. So let’s close by talking about the recipients of God’s love.
The recipients of God’s love
It’s funny, you know, when you do these stand-alone sermons and you’re just picking a text, you usually come in with a sense of what you want to say. And if I was just saying what I wanted to say, the sermon would end there. But I’ve also learned over the years that I need to say what God says, not just what I want to say, and it would be irresponsible and even dishonest of me to preach only what I have so far from this text, because verse 17 does describe the recipients of God’s love in a specific way: “Those who fear Him.” Verse 18 goes on to describe them as “those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.” The steadfast love of the LORD is not promised to humanity indiscriminately, nor is it promised to the children’s children indiscriminately.
There are ways in which God’s love is promised to humanity indiscriminately: In Matthew 5, Jesus tells us the reason we are to love our enemies is because God loves both the righteous and the unrighteous: He makes his sun rise on the just and the unjust, Jesus says. But recall that this steadfast love is covenant love; it is a love promised to a particular people. A husband should love all people, but he should have a unique love for his wife. So also God loves all people, but has a unique love for His covenant people. And so we see Him making covenants with Abraham and his offspring, Moses and his offspring, David and his offspring, that he doesn’t make with other nations.
And what characterizes the recipients of His love is that they fear Him, keep His covenant, and do His commandments. Nowhere does the text says He loves them because they fear Him, or because they keep His covenant, or because they do His commandments. Remember, He loved them from everlasting, before they did anything good or bad. And yet, the idea here is that only those who fear Him, keep His covenant, and do His commandments should rest assured that God loves them. There is no promise of steadfast love from everlasting to everlasting on those who do not fear Him, do not keep His covenant, and do not do His commandments.
So what do you think? Are you a recipient of this love? Do you fear Him, keep His covenant, and do what He commands? Evidently even David and the people of His day did not. Remember earlier in the service we read from the earlier part of the Psalm, where we read things like this: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities…as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.” Here David acknowledges that he and his people have sins, iniquities, transgressions. That means they didn’t always do what God commanded. Yet God’s steadfast love for them remained. How can that be? Doesn’t the Psalm also say it’s for those who keep His commandments?
We only learn how this can be through one of David’s children’s child. We only learn how this can be through the one who is from everlasting, who the Father loved from before the foundation of the world. God the Son came as David’s son, Jesus Christ. Though He is God from everlasting to everlasting, He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, and became man. As a man, He kept God’s covenant, and remembered to do His commandments. He had no sins or iniquities of His own. Instead, He came to bear our sins and iniquities, and God dealt with Him according to our sins. God repaid Him for our iniquities. God removed our transgressions from us by placing them on Him. And so at the height of His flourishing, the wind of God’s judgment blew over Him, He was gone, and for three days, His place knew Him no more.
Only He was not like men who came before Him, or any ordinary flower of the field. Because He truly kept the covenant and obeyed all of God’s commandments, He came back to life on the third day, and His place knew Him yet again. Now the steadfast love of the LORD is promised to whoever would believe in Christ, the one who kept God’s covenant and did all His commands for them. Believe in Him today, and He will reveal to you that His love for you is from everlasting to everlasting, without beginning or end. That’s the way to know you are a recipient of God’s love: Exercise faith upon Christ. He is the ultimate child of Abraham, Moses, and David to whom the promises were made, and you inherit them in Him.
And then, this secondary evidence remains: Are you becoming like Him? Do you fear Him? Do you keep His covenant and do His commands? The question isn’t whether you do it perfectly; only Christ did. You will always need God to remove your transgressions from you and to not treat you as your sins deserve. But the fact remains that there is no promise of God’s steadfast love to those who do not fear Him. There is no promise of God’s steadfast love even to the children of believers who do not personally keep his covenant and do His commandments. Do not tell yourself you’ll be ok because you’re from a Christian family. You won’t be. You personally need Jesus. Don’t tell yourself you’ll be ok because you’ve kept His commandments in the past. You won’t be. You need Jesus today. And if your faith in Jesus isn’t producing in you a genuine fear of God and a genuine, though imperfect, obedience to His commands, you should not assume that it is truly faith in Jesus you have, nor that you have God’s covenant love either.
Let that scare you if it needs to. But let it scare you closer to Jesus. All those who are in Him can know today, whatever their sins have been and are now, that His love for them will never end, because it never began. Not even death will separate you from it, and it will continue to the generations that follow you. Often that is through your biological children, but often it’s through another means. Now that the true child of David has come, one inherits the promise of steadfast love not through their first birth, but their second, and whether you have children or not, you can pass the knowledge of God’s steadfast love on to the next generation by telling your neighbor, co-worker, family, friends, even someone else’s kids about it. Let’s keep giving ourselves to that, Citylight. And as we change the building in which we gather, as members come and go, as at some point, even we will begin to fade like the flower, and our place will know us no more, let’s pass on the knowledge of God’s steadfast love to another generation, and let’s plant our happiness and our identity in the one thing that is truly firm, that will remain through it all: The steadfast love of the LORD.