Those Who Sow in Tears
So why this psalm on this Sunday?
#1: This psalm is all about joy — joy (or gladness) is mentioned four times in six verses. And because this Sunday is Easter, of course it makes sense that we’d talk about joy. Jesus has been raised from the dead! Jesus is alive! Jesus is reigning at the Father’s right hand! Jesus is coming again! It is good to talk about joy on Easter, and this psalm does that. But also …
#2: This psalm is a lament coming from a place of grief, and although this Sunday is Easter, it’s still Easter in this world, and joy in this world is complicated. Joy is complicated in this world just like joy is complicated in this psalm, and that’s what I want us to look at together. And right away there are three things we see about joy in Psalm 126.
And the plan for the sermon is to walk through each of these: “Joy Remembered” and “Joy Lost” will be quick, and then we’ll spend most of the time on “Joy Hoped.”
And before we pray again and get started, I want you to know that I believe with all my heart that God speaks to us through his word, and I believe that this morning, wherever it is that you’re coming from, whatever it is that you have going on in your life, I believe you are here because God wants you here. So let’s pray:
Father, we ask that you give us ears to hear and hearts to receive what you have for us today. You have brought us here to this moment, and in your sovereign grace, you must do what only you can. Show us your glory, in Jesus’s name, amen.
#1. Joy remembered [verses 1–3]
This is in verses 1–3. The psalm begins: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.” And the first thing we see here is that this is something in the past. The psalmist says “restored” in the past tense — which means the psalmist is referring to a time behind the moment he’s writing this.
He’s referring to the time in Israel’s history, around 538BC, when the Jewish people exiled in Babylon were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Jerusalem had been laid under siege and decimated; Solomon’s temple had been destroyed; and now after seventy years of being held captive in a foreign land, the people of God were allowed to return to their Promised Land, and it was an unforgettable event.
Back then, in that time, the Lord “restored their fortunes.” That phrase is the same phrase at the very end of the book of Job. After everything that Job had suffered, after all that he had been through, Chapter 42, verse 10 says, “And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job.” God’s face was shining again on Job. God had restored his blessing on Job’s life, and the psalmist here is saying the same thing for Israel. God restored their fortunes. They returned to Jerusalem. They were free again, and they were happy. It was like a dream.
Their mouths were filled with laughter; their tongues with shouts of joy (verse 2). God’s goodness to them was so obvious that the nations around them could not help but notice: All these people got to go back home. And so the nations said, “The Lord has done great things for them!”
And indeed, the psalmist says, as he remembers that time, the Lord has done great things for us!
The Gift of Good Memories
It is a wonderful gift to be able to remember God doing great things.
My guess is that we all can do something like that — or at least we can remember moments in ours lives that were full of joy. We call these things “good memories” and every human has them. And it’s amazing how they work. There are things in your life — maybe a place you went, or people you were with, or something you accomplished — but you can think back to those things, and it’s a good memory. It causes good thoughts and good feelings — and we even have a word for this phenomenon: it’s called nostalgia. This is an amazing thing.
In the human experience, we have good memories that have such a magnetic pull on our emotions that it makes us want to go backwards — we think back on good memories almost like we’re dreaming. And it’s always in scenes. We remember moments.
For example, I don’t want to be 13-years old all over again, but I have memories of playing wiffleball with my younger brother that are worth a trillion dollars to me. I don’t want to go back to the first month of my marriage, but the honeymoon is called a honeymoon on purpose (it’s an especially happy, limited window of time). It’s a scene of joy, and we all have these joys in our past that have made an imprint on our lives. We can remember joy, and it makes us long for joy.
And that’s what is happening here in Psalm 126. We see joy remembered. But also …
#2. Joy lost. [verse 4]
And this is implied in verse 4, because the psalmist goes from remembering joy in the past to asking for joy again. Notice the change in verse 4. The psalmist has been talking about when God restored the fortunes of Zion, and here he says, verse 4: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord…” So God, like you did that one time, will you do it again?
And that’s also part of good memories. Part of remembering joy is the obvious recognition that the joy is no longer active. The fact that you remember the joy means that it is joy lost. We don’t remember joy in the moment of joy — we remember joy when the joy has waned. That is Psalm 126.
After the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem, they laughed together and sang together and rejoiced together until they figured out that this return to Jerusalem was not the full restoration they anticipated. There was still sin in the camp; still enemies who threatened them; the people collectively were still out of touch with God. So they remembered joy because they lost joy, and that’s why there is joy hoped.
This is the third point, and we’re going to settle in here for a bit.
#3. Joy hoped [verses 4–6]
This is in verses 4–6, and it represents a significant change for the psalmist. This psalm is a lament, and so it makes sense that the psalmist is expressing the grief of joy lost, and he could stay there a little longer. Other psalms do. There are some psalmists who seem to plumb the depths of their sorrow. For example, Psalm 88 ends with the last verse as “Darkness has become my only companion.” The Bible is not afraid to speak honestly and incompletely about pain. But here in Psalm 126, in just six verses, we see a comprehensive prayer, because this lament of joy lost turns into the hope of joy found.
And that is the point. This is the part that I really want us to see together because I think this is a vision for how we should think about life. It has to do with how the details of our hope are rooted in the work of God and the ways of God. Those are the two things we see here: God’s work and God’s ways. And there is a truth here about God’s work and God’s ways that shapes our hope for joy. And I want to just go ahead and put it in a little sentence for you. And what I’m about to say, I think, pretty much organizes the meaning of the Christian life. This is how we should think about the Christian life in a sentence. Here it is:
God is the God of resurrection power who calls us to the way of the cross.
God is the God of resurrection power (that’s the work of God); and he calls us to the way of the cross (that’s the ways of God). And we see that here in Psalm 126 in first, the Petition, and then, the Paradigm.
Petition for the Work of God in Resurrection Power
The petition is in verse 4: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!”
Now we don’t what that means unless we know what the Negeb is. It’s a word we see all throughout the Old Testament, and the root word means “to be dry or parched” — and this is the name given to the southern part of Israel (and it’s the name still used today). The southern part of Israel is called the Negeb because it’s a desert. The Negeb is dry ground. It is the kind of ground you can imagine in a desert — it is bleached yellow, dry dirt with cracks everywhere.
Which is what makes this prayer stand out. “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb!” Streams in the Negeb? You mean streams in a desert?
The psalmist is saying:
God, restore us in a way that makes the desert turn green and brown and blue. Restore us in a way that makes the dry ground lush with life and flowing with water. God, restore us by a downpour of rain that saturates this hard soil and causes things to grow.
This is a prayer for instant, dramatic, powerful intervention. God, make rivers in the desert! And the psalmist is asking God to do this because he knows that God is able. This is the God of resurrection power, the God who, as Romans 4:17 tells us, can call into existence things that do not exist. This is the work of God. God does this. The psalmist knows it, and so he’s asking God to do this. God, make rivers in this desert.
That’s the petition in verse 4. But then notice the paradigm in verse 5.
Paradigm of the Ways of God in the Way of the Cross
Those who sow in tears
shall reap with shouts of joy!
He who goes out weeping,
bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy,
bringing his sheaves with him.
Now what does this mean? We go from a dramatic intervention in verse 4 to a grueling process in verse 5. Did y’all see that? Sowing the seeds of tears is not a positive image.
I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a farmer plant a field, but you can probably imagine what it would have been like thousands of years ago. The objective in farming has always been the same. You have to get the seed into the ground, and before the technology we have today, the farmer planted his field by covering every square inch of the field by hand. It was a grueling process.
At home we have some grass issues in our front yard. I would really love to have very green grass in my front yard. And just a couple days ago, in some of the bare spots, I was trying to get ahead of this good weather, and so I got a bag of grass seed, and after raking the ground and loosening it up, I took the bag, and by handfuls I started planting the seeds. And it’s was just a little section of our yard, but I thought: What if I had a whole field to plant like this, and what if my life depended on it?
And we can imagine what this would have been like. Wake up early; start here; one step at a time. Step, sow … step, sow … step, sow … step, sow — and you have to wonder if this is ever going to end. Will I get all this planted, and will it even grow? That kind of stepping and sowing and not seeing what you want is like weeping. The seed on the ground is like our tears. The whole process is anguish, and yet the psalmist knows that’s the way it goes.
Those who sow in tears — those who go through this grueling process — they shall reap with shouts of joy.
And this makes no sense until we look to Jesus.
Looking to Jesus
Wasn’t the whole life of Jesus a sowing in tears?
Born in a manger because there was no room in the inn — sowing in tears.
Confronted in his weakness, by Satan, and tempted in every way yet faithful — sowing in tears.
Healing the sick but accused of transgression — sowing in tears.
Befriending the marginal but assumed a drunkard — sowing in tears.
Casting out demons but being forced to exile — sowing in tears.
Teaching the truth but called a blasphemer — sowing in tears.
Pleading with his Father, “If you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done,” and sweat drops of blood fell to the ground …
Betrayed by one disciple, denied by his closest disciple, abandoned by all the rest …
Mocked, slandered, condemned, a crown of thorns shoved into his brow … sowing in tears.
Led to Golgotha and hung on a cross, dying with criminals, reviled and mocked again., the wrath of God upon him — sowing in tears. …
Wasn’t the whole life of Jesus a sowing in tears?
And isn’t that the way of God? Jesus is God become man to show us the way, and the way is hard. The way is a cross. And how did he do it? Hebrews 12, verse 2 says that Jesus “for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” How? How did Jesus hope for joy in the way of the cross?
It’s because in God’s way, he knew God’s work. Jesus sowed his tears in hope because he knew what the psalmist knew in Psalm 126, and it’s that we have a God who can send rain. We have a God who makes rivers in the desert. We have a God who gives life to the dead.
And so the whole life of Jesus then was sowing. Last Sunday he rode into Jerusalem, sowing. He was conspired against on Wednesday, sowing. He was betrayed on Thursday, sowing. He as crucified on Friday, sowing. And then he was dead. Then it was over. He was finished. His body was wrapped. The tomb was sealed. All his tears had been sown.
But Sunday morning came the reaping. Sunday morning came the shouts of joy.
“He is not here,” the angel said. “For he has risen.”
And He Will Reap
And indeed he has risen. Right now he is risen. He is risen and reigning. He is highly exalted and the name above every name has been given to him. Jesus Christ is Lord and he will be worshiped. He will reap his shouts of joy! He will reap his shouts of joy this morning, and he will reap his shouts of joy for all eternity when his redeemed from every tribe and tongue and people and nation gather around his throne and sing together: “To the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
Jesus will reap with shouts of joy.
That’s what the psalmist says here in Psalm 126. “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy.” The God of resurrection power calls us to the way of the cross. That is the vision for the Christian life because that is the life of Christ. … And this is what it means for you.
Hope in the Cross of Christ
It means that right now whatever you’re going through, however small your hope, however far away from God you feel, you are never too far. Your ground is never too dry. You are never beyond the work of God because he is the God of resurrection power, and he can save you. God will save you —
Through the way of the cross of Jesus.
Through the suffering of Jesus you can be saved. By his wounds you can be healed. Jesus became the curse for us. He died on the cross for our sins. He took God’s wrath in our place, and he did it all by grace. It’s because of his great love. Because of his rich mercy.
And you cannot add to this. Jesus does not meet you halfway here. It’s Jesus the whole way or there’s no way. And right now, I want to invite you to trust in Jesus. The God of resurrection power calls you to the way of the cross — he calls you to faith in Jesus. Would you believe him? Right now, resolve in your heart: my hope is in the cross of Christ.
My hope is in the cross of Christ.
And you know, brothers and sisters, this is our story.
The apostle Paul says in Galatians 6:14,
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Our union to the joy of Jesus also means our union to the sowing of Jesus, and there’s a lot of that in this world. Jesus has reaped his joy, and he will reap his joy with him, but the reaping is an already and not yet. This is why it is joy hoped. This morning we do reap with shouts of joy — Christ is risen from the dead — and because he is we hope in a future day when we will reap still more. And if that is your hope, we invite to this Table with us.
At this Table we remember and gives thanks to Jesus for his cross. At this table we reap with shouts of joy and we hope in more joy to come. And if you would do that, we would love for you to eat and drink with us. We’ll serve the bread first and then eat it all together.