There is a cluster of fifteen psalms within the book of Psalms that are uniquely labeled songs of “Ascents” (Psalm 120-134). The word “ascents,” or as the old King James version says “degrees,” means elevation, or the act thereof; a journey to a higher place, or an arising thought. The word could be in reference to the elevation of praise within the song, or it could also be referring to the musical dynamics of the song, like a crescendo to forte. In any case, the 126th Psalm is a song of praise to God for the liberty that He has granted to His people. The Psalm is short, with only six verses, but its theme is very high.

1 A Song of Ascents. When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion, We were like those who dream.

2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter, And our tongue with singing. Then they said among the nations, “The LORD has done great things for them.”

3 The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad.

4 Bring back our captivity, O LORD, As the streams in the South.

5 Those who sow in tears Shall reap in joy.

6 He who continually goes forth weeping, Bearing seed for sowing, Shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, Bringing his sheaves with him.”

    As the people of God come over the horizon, they feel like they are in a dream. The greatness of that day was more of a wonderful fantasy then a reality. They were all filled with laughter and joy. They sang joyfully and praised the Lord, for He had done great things for them. There is first, the great joy of freedom. Secondly, I can’t help but believe that these people looked at their coming back as a new opportunity to live for God. A second chance to do the right thing. These are people who have suffered for a long time. They know that their suffering was the result of their own sins, as well that their new found freedom is the result of God. The Psalm describes the tearful mourning of the people, and the joy it produced in time. Their mourning over their sins inevitably led to pure joy with God. Jesus made this same point in Matthew 5:4, when He said “blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In application, when the tears flow over our own sins, then we are well on our way to the Joy of being free from our sins by the blood of Christ. What comfort that brings to the heart; what a song of ascents!

    To be convicted of our sins is a critical aspect towards salvation. That is the example we see before us in Acts chapter two, when 3,000 sinners were “cut to the heart.” Yes, they felt the pain of their sins for the first time. Salvation is impossible without first feeling pain over our unrighteousness. Those who are “self-righteous” will truly have the most trouble accomplishing just the first initial step toward salvation; how ironic is that? This is due to the fact that the “self-righteous” will have the hardest time seeing themselves clearly; and therefore, seeing clearly their own sinfulness. So then, salvation is dependent first on the realization that we are sinners, being convicted of that, and mourning over it in pain. The tears from the sorrow will fall to the ground and moisten soil that has long been dry and brittle. Then the seed of the word of God can grow. So then, the song of ascents demonstrates that we must be brought to a lowly state of mind before we can reap joy.

    In contrast to the people we see in Psalm 126 and the 3,000 in Acts 2, there is another group of people who had a similar, and yet, entirely different response to God and His word. In Acts chapter seven, Stephen is giving his defense for the gospel. He makes many similar points that Peter previously did in Acts 2, but the outcome was very different. In Acts 7:54, we see that the people were “cut to the heart,” but unlike those in Acts 2 who responded well to their heartbreak, these individuals did not. The cut in their heart produced anger instead of godly sorrow. They moved to stone Stephen, and did so unto death. And thus we see the full picture of responses to God. The song of ascents and the 3,000 in Acts 2, demonstrate the people who sincerely come to know their own sinfulness; while the people of Acts 7 demonstrate those who have great opportunity as well to turn away from their sin, but they do not. And when approached about their condition, lash out in anger. It’s not a godly sight; it’s not a pretty sight, and they are the best work of Satan. What an eternal opportunity they have missed. Nevertheless, we as Christians, do not live and breathe for that kind of wicked response to God’s word. It is our duty to know from the scriptures that this unfortunate thing truly does happen from time to time, but it must be like the sweat on our backs or the dust on our feet. We cannot let that affect us, nor can we dwell on it. We must walk away. Take the example of Paul and Barnabas, when they were in Antioch in Acts 13 and had received such a strong reaction against the word of God, “they shook off the dust from their feet against them.” Paul and Barnabas could not have survived mentally if they could not let it go, whether in this situation or the many others that they found themselves in. They lived by a high knowledge of God. They understood that they must spend their time and effort on people who want to go to heaven, and not waste it upon those whom they find to have no concern for eternity. It sounds severe, but in justice, God is only as good as He is severe (Romans 11:22). Think about it, if God is not severe with sin, then He is not good. That would be the description of Satan, not God!

    In conclusion, let us be responsive to God’s instruction, convicted of our sins, live in joyful freedom from sin, give everyone else the opportunity to have that life as well. If they do not want it, that is not our choice, nor is it God’s, but it is their unfortunate decision. Christ taught us only to be seed sowers, not to be concerned with where the seeds fall.

Psalm 126, A Song of Ascents
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Tanner Campbell

Tanner Campbell has been preaching since 2004. He began preaching in California, and spent 8 years preaching full-time in Arkansas before moving his family of four to the Black Hills of South Dakota to preach for the Southside church of Christ in 2014.