By Jamie Harms and Jaime Sherman
So often we fly through the early days of spring and the countdown to Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter (this year on April 5, 10 and 12) without slowing down to prepare our hearts for the remembrances of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Things are different this year as the coronavirus restrictions slow down our daily routines and halt our in-person gatherings; however, with every headline we scan, our minds are hurried, rushing to the what-ifs. In this time of uncertainty, we must still choose to slow down — more mentally than physically — and turn our eyes upward to our Lord, the only One who never changes.
When we look at Scripture, we see how God prescribed for His people a day of rest every week — the Sabbath — and a series of festivals every year because He wanted to break His people out of their normal routines and away from their daily challenges to allow them to remember. To remember who He is. To remember who He has always been. And to remember who they are in Him.
After their epic journey out of 400 years of slavery in Egypt and into the wilderness, God directed the Israelites to set up camp at the foot of Mount Sinai. They were to await His instructions, which He planned to deliver to them through Moses. One of those rules was to pause three times a year to celebrate God’s provision. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, or Passover, was to be a seven-day feast to mark the hasty exodus from Egypt when God’s hand of judgment passed over each home marked with the blood of a freshly sacrificed, spotless lamb. We encourage you to read about that first Passover in Exodus 12, which is rich with detail about keeping one’s eyes fixed on the Rescuer.
Generations of Jewish families have marked this yearly feast, including the well-known families of Hannah and Elkanah with Samuel, who traveled to Shiloh to worship God at the temple (I Samuel 1), Mary and Joseph with 12-year-old Jesus as they took the pilgrimage from Nazareth to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), and later Jesus and His disciples on the eve of His crucifixion. The Passover celebration allowed God’s people to remember their bondage, their need for a deliverer, the power displayed through the plagues that finally convinced Pharaoh to let them go, God’s provision of the lamb, God’s protection at the Red Sea, God’s care in the desert, and His sacrificial love for them.
According to the Mishnah, the first written collection of early Jewish oral tradition, Psalms 120 through 134 of our Bibles today were the songs written and sung by those traveling to the temple after the time of King David. From childhood, Jesus would have been familiar with these psalms, which are known as the Psalms of Ascents, or songs of degrees. The Mishnah suggests that the 15 songs correspond with the 15 steps ascending to the temple, although some scholars believe they have been so named simply because the city of Jerusalem was the highest point in the surrounding area. In a poetic sense, the words “a song of ascents” at the beginning of each of these psalms summarizes the posture of the heart, of eyes lifted up to our God, who is worthy of all praise.
The psalms follow a pattern: 120-124 speak of God’s people facing hardship, 125-129 express confidence in God’s restoration, and 130-134 celebrate the communion between God and His people. Each one points to God in the midst of hardship. Each one is fitting for us today.
In the next two weeks, we will journey through the Psalms of Ascents as the early pilgrims of Jesus’ day did as they walked to Jerusalem to worship God at the temple. It’s important to note that since the day of Pentecost, when God sent His Spirit to live within believers (Acts 2), we don’t need a temple or a church facility built by human hands for God to meet us in our worship. This is especially encouraging as state officials have banned group meetings in an attempt to flatten the coronavirus curve. Paul writes in I Corinthians 3:16-17, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
In these days leading up to an Easter celebrated at home, may we each make the conscious decision to worship the Lord, to give thanks, to be glad for all He has given us, keeping our eyes lifted up to Him rather than down on our current situation. May we be one of the saints who is described in Psalm 132 as shouting for joy with gladness of heart in the presence of the Lord.
Today: Read or listen to Psalm 120-134, and ask God to prepare your heart for the study ahead.
Tomorrow: Join us here as we begin our joyous journey through the Psalms of Ascents. As you work through each day’s short devotional, we encourage you to post a new comment or respond to another woman’s reflection as a way of dialoguing around the text, much as we would do if we were gathering face-to-face in Bible study.