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It’s About Time


Sermon on Psalm 90 for New Year’s Eve December 31, 2017

  1. Psalm 90 is the New Year’s Eve Psalm because it has so many words that reflect on time. I could read a list of them, but it would be about like reading the whole psalm again. It was written by Moses, somebody who had seen a lot of time pass, and as the leader of Israel, he was aware of what it means that time passes. The book of Numbers tells us that there were 600,000 men who could fight in an army when they left Egypt. So some multiplication for women and children would give us a population of over 2,000,000. How many funerals a day for a city that size? And the trip from Egypt to the promised land, which should have taken a few months, was extended to forty years so that a disobedient generation would die off, and their children could inherit the land. So Moses saw some time pass, and he saw many people pass, too. He knew what the passage of time meant.
  2. Now we can measure time precisely. We have atomic clocks. All our cell phones are synchronized to the atomic clocks to keep accurate record of our calls and for global positioning for map programs. But the precision is irrelevant, really. Time still passes. Now we have fanciful ideas about time. There were the Back to the Future Star Trek had several episodes and a movie about time travel. Still, with all the precision and imaginative thinking, there is something that we will never understand—at least in this life we will never understand it. We will never understand eternity. Moses describes eternity as best he can. He said God endures “throughout all generations.” “From everlasting to everlasting you are God.” “A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by.” God is eternal. Time doesn’t pass for him the way it does for us. He doesn’t change with the passage of time. Artists depict God as an aged man with a flowing white beard—and I think that’s more confusing than helping. He is forever new and forever old. He is beyond time. His name Yahweh or Jehovah means the same as “I am who I am.” Maker of all, mover of all. Independent of anyone or anything. Unchanging—especially in his love and faithfulness. That’s what it means that God is unbounded by time.
  3. And what about us, within the bounds of time? Moses reflects on that, too—that’s his main theme in the psalm. “You turn people back to dust, saying “Return to dust, you sons of men.” … “You sweep people away in the sleep of death—they are like the new grass of the morning: in the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered.” There is a reason why time has such a horrible effect on us. St. Paul said it in words you know well, “The wages of sin is death.” Moses says it here, too. “You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.” Because of sin, God sets a limit to our lives. I think Moses is describing the high end of life expectancy at his time when he says “The length of our days is seventy years or eighty, if we have the strength.” In our time, we see that extended about ten or twenty years. The length of our days is eighty years or ninety if we have the strength. Some even make it to one hundred. But what still happens? Death. “our days are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
  4. So we look at time, life and death, and we’re bound to ask, “Is that all there is?” If so, that’s pretty grim—like King Solomon in Ecclesiastes, writing “Everything is meaningless—a chasing after the wind.” But there’s more to the meaning of life than its shortness. Moses tells us this in his psalm. “Relent, Lord! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their children. 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us.” Here Moses tells us that the time we have, we have because of God’s compassion and unfailing love. Those are other words for grace, aren’t they? God gives us time, shows compassion and unfailing love to us. He gives us time so that we will seek him and find him (See Acts 17:27). And to help us find him, he has given us his written word so we will know clearly that we have a creator, so we will know what he expects of us—and so we will know that he is a gracious God and Savior who forgives sins.
  5. Our Savior, Jesus Christ, was born in time. That’s as mind boggling as the infinite God taking the size of a baby and being wrapped in swaddling clothes. God, who is unbounded by time, has a birthday. We just celebrated it. The God who is eternal and who does not change grows in wisdom and stature. St. John begins his gospel with these words, “The Word became flesh and dwelled among us. We have seen his glory, the glory he has as the only-begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.… No one has ever seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is close to the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:14, 18). This is why God gives us time. This is why God gives us his Word. So that we will know that there is more than just a short life with a death at the end of it. So we will know there is a Savior who says, “I am the resurrection and the life… Do not let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you.” (John 11:25; 14:1-2). That is our gladness in affliction and trouble. That is the kindness of the Lord that rests upon us. People in the Old Testament waited for fulfillment in Christ. We have the fulfillment, but look forward with hope, even when we see death around us. We know our God has something more for us.
  6. Moses prays, “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” It’s unwise to say, “Death is just a part of living.” That ignores the reason why we die and death’s connection to sin. It is unwise to say at a funeral, “He or she lived a good long life,” because that looks only at the earthly time that has been given. “Life is short—but each day is a gift of God’s grace.” “Life is full of misery and death—but God is still gracious and still gives us joys from day to day.” “Make use of the time God gives you—especially as you learn about him, serve him, and help your neighbor.” “Life is short—but eternity follows, and it’s yours because of his grace in Christ.” That’s the kind of wisdom our God gives as we consider time. So whatever happens in 2018, you’re prepared. There will surely be some surprises in the next year. But you know your gracious God. You know his compassion and patience. “May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us.” May he use our work to his glory.



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