Christmas/Advent Devotional Psalms

Justice & Peace Have Kissed! (Psalm 85)

The Prince of Peace himself wants to hold classes in every church across the globe this New Year "that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths" (Isaiah 2:3). What are the key topics of his seminar? The psalmist gives us the curriculum. Jesus wants to teach his people that in Him "unfailing love and truth have met together" (v. 10a).

Let’s chew on and savor Psalm 85 in this Christmas season. Line by line, let it probe our hearts and woo us deeper into the reality of Jesus’ Kingdom of peace ushered in 2,000 years ago.

I listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying,

    for he speaks peace to his faithful people.
    But let them not return to their foolish ways.
Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
    so our land will be filled with his glory.

10 Unfailing love and truth have met together.
    Justice and peace have kissed!
11 Truth springs up from the earth,
    and righteousness smiles down from heaven” (Psalm 85:8-11).

I sit at my desk write now trying to make space amidst the noise of our world to “listen carefully to what God is saying” (v. 8a). But my phone is buzzing with a new text and new email alerts are flashing in the upper right of my screen. So far today I’ve listened to NPR’s news journalists in the shower, 830 (WCCO) AM talk radio in the van while dropping the kids off, and two Christian podcasts on my way home. I’m tempted to check my morning newsfeed to listen carefully to what’s going on around the world.

The psalmist is asking you and me today, Amidst all the other voices and perspectives, “Will you listen carefully to what God the Lord is saying?” Why is this so important? Because the Lord “speaks PEACE to his faithful people” (v. 8b) and peace is in short supply in our world. This Advent we all could use a refill on “peace of mind” and “peace of heart” or “peace within our homes and relationships” and “peace with God.”

In my own experience and conversations, it seems like many of us first need to find some peace within our own selves. We need to give ourselves a break and let the words of our Savior sink in, “You are alright! I love you, warts and all. Relax. Stop beating yourself up. We’ll deal with that crap later. Just know I love you and I’m with you. I enjoy you and I love you. Let my peace invade and live in your heart this Christmas.”

But the psalmist warns as he comforts, rebukes as he woos: “Don’t return to your foolish ways” (v. 8c). What foolish ways? A thousand things could be mentioned, but let’s just stick to what’s already been given here so far. Stop foolishly living your days bombarded by every voice and perspective except God’s. It’s foolish to let Fox News or CNN shape your view of the world. It’s foolish to seek inner peace through other’s approval, or success at your job, or physical health, or that next purchase that shows up on a FedEx box on your door step. Stop returning to those foolish ways of seeking peace and meaning and, yes, even salvation.

Where then do I look for salvation and inner peace? God has set up a river of blessings in the middle of our desert life (Psalm 1). We need to make our way to that river, and plant our lives next to it and be watered by His life and blessings and Presence that overflows the banks.

While God certainly does come meet us in the middle of our daily grind, it seems He also longs for us to step out of our busy obsessions and preoccupations and approach Him as we’d approach a desert oasis or refreshing stream in a desolate valley — that is, come desperately and with a sense of awe and reverence. The Bible calls this this reverent approach “fear of God.” “Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him” (v. 9a) and we “fear him” by humbly orienting our lives around Him.  

If God’s salvation (which in the psalms is not limited to eternal life, but the full blessings of God here and now) is near to those who fear him, then I suspect these blessings are far away from those who don’t fear him and instead give God a convenient slot in their busy schedule or treat Him like a cosmic vending machine or divine concierge to call upon only when they need help.

When I read the news each day, its clear that our land is filled with everything but the glory of God. But Jesus came to set up a Kingdom that reverses and topples all our Tower of Babel projects that seek human glory, and followers of Jesus should make it our life’s desire to see that “our land will be filled with his glory” (v. 9b). 

When Jesus looks down upon our blood-stained and war-torn landscape, he weeps over our land as he wept over Jerusalem 2,000 year ago, “If only you knew the Way to peace, but it is hidden from your eyes” (Luke 19:42). His birth heralded the good news, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14).

The Prince of Peace himself wants to hold classes in every church across the globe this New Year “that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths” (Isaiah 2:3). What are the key topics of his seminar? The psalmist gives us the curriculum. Jesus wants to teach his people that in Him “unfailing love and truth have met together” (v. 10a).

Our world is living under the spell of a flaky, self-centered love that is a “feeling” that comes and goes like the tide. Jesus wants to reveal, model for us, and teach us a deep, committed, covenantal love that sacrifices for the other and remains faithful to the other even when the feelings fade.

Likewise, our world is teetering on the edge of moral chaos and meaninglessness, having traded any hope of finding any enduring Truth in the marketplace of ideas, and settling for a dizzying barrage of opinions and spin, empty rhetoric and self-serving talking points. We’re drowning in a sea of unfiltered information, data, tweets and texts, points and counterpoints, and no one trusts anyone anymore. Into this swirl of naked facts and fiction, news and fake news, all smothered with a heavy dose of suspicion and weariness, perhaps we need an encounter with Truth that is more than words.

It’s easy to ignore a tweet or a headline, but its much harder to dismiss a Truth that became a Person and lived the kind of life that even skeptics and truth-deniers admit is compelling and beautiful. Truth has a face, and a heart and goal. Let’s not only teach our kids to “tell the truth” but help them get to know the One who said, “I AM the Truth.”

So, in Christ “unfailing love and truth have met together” (v. 10a) and then through his life’s mission and activity “justice and peace have kissed” (v. 10b)! This season we hold hands and sing, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Yet, the problem with letting peace on earth begin with “me” is that we have proven time and time again that we don’t know how to hold justice and peace together. In striving for one, we trample on the other. 

We strive to bring peace in the Middle East by unjust means that helps one people at the expense of the other. Or, we strive to bring justice by violent means and peace goes out the window. Jesus alone announced and inaugurated a the kind of Kingdom that seeks to bring justice by peaceful means.

On the cross, Peace laid a wet, sloppy kiss on the face of Justice! And the church has been slapping Peace’s face ever since by pursuing justice by way of sword-power instead of cross-power.

The church will one day be held accountable for all the excuses we made for not following His way of “fighting” for justice by training up an army of peacemakers committed to His radical cross-shaped, love-driven ethic. When will our churches start holding seminars teaching Christians how to “hammer swords into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks” as we long for that day when “nations will no longer learn war” (Isaiah 2:4)?

Finally, the psalmist envisions a fertile soil and fruitful garden, perhaps an image of Eden restored, but instead of vegetables or wheat sprouting, we see a land where “Truth springs up from the earth” (v. 11a) with a bountiful harvest! What an image! We live in a world where lies and confusion, misinformation and suspicion currently sprout up like dandelions or some other invasive weed. Like a child playing “Whack-a-Mole” at an arcade, once we crush one lie, another pops up.

But Truth-in-Person has “torn open the Heavens and come down” (Isaiah 64). He planted a people, first in Jerusalem, but then spreading like a good virus to Judea, Samaria and now the Ends of the Earth. Little churches planted all over God’s fertile land are learning to “hold fast to the truth” and “guard the good deposit” of Kingdom teaching passed on to us. Each church is full of little seedlings, individual followers being watered by the Word of Truth, and slowly and imperfectly learning to live lives in accordance with the Truth. This is how the psalmist’s words are being fulfilled today as “truth springs up from the earth.” A high calling indeed!

What is the rain that falls and smiles down on us little truth-sprouts trying to poke our heads up through the dirt of our old, sin-stained lives?  What kind of light radiates through the dark clouds, providing warmth in the sometimes cold struggle to “hold forth the word of life” as we grow into “blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and perverse generation” (Phil 2:15)? The Son of “righteousness smiles down from heaven” (v. 11b) upon his children. Yet, let us never forget that our Father in Heaven is scandalously gracious, “For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matt 5:45).

Let us go and do likewise.

So, let me leave you with a benediction based on this psalm:

May you listen carefully to what the Lord is saying to you today, and let him speak Peace into your restless soul. Draw near to Him today and bask in his Salvation blessings! Dance with the One embodies unfailing love and the truth that sets you free! Pursue justice and peace in your dealings with others and let your life magnify the Truth! And receive the warmth of his smiling love shining down on your today! Amen!

Reposted from December 2017.

Dr. Jeremy Berg is the founding and Lead Pastor of MainStreet Covenant Church in Minnetonka Beach, MN, where he has served since 2010. He is an Adjunct Professor of Biblical and Theological Studies at Bethel University, University of Northwestern—St. Paul, North Central University, and Solid Rock Discipleship School. Jeremy earned a doctorate in New Testament Context under Scot McKnight at Northern Seminary (Chicago). He and his wife, Kjerstin, have three kids, Peter, Isaak and Abigail.

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