A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.
Psalm 85 (NIV)
You, LORD, showed favor to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
You forgave the iniquity of your people
and covered all their sins.
You set aside all your wrath
and turned from your fierce anger.
Restore us again, God our Savior,
and put away your displeasure toward us.
Will you be angry with us forever?
Will you prolong your anger through all generations?
Will you not revive us again,
that your people may rejoice in you?
Show us your unfailing love, LORD,
and grant us your salvation.
I will listen to what God the LORD says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants—
but let them not turn to folly.
Surely his salvation is near those who fear him,
that his glory may dwell in our land.
Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The LORD will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before him
and prepares the way for his steps.
This is the first Sunday in Advent! So, it is appropriate that we come to a psalm of hope and a celebration of God’s grace in our lives. The psalm opens with a litany of powerful declarations of God’s grace. Just capture the flow of verbs in the opening of the psalm… “You showed favor to your land” (vs. 1), “you restored” our fortunes (vs. 1), “you forgave” our iniquity (vs. 2), You “covered all their sins” (vs. 2), “You set aside” all your wrath” (vs. 3), “you turned” from your fierce anger (vs. 3). The psalmist is hopeful that this grace and mercy will continue (vv. 4-7). He remembers God’s promise of peace (vs. 8). He glories in the realization that “his salvation is near to those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land” (vs. 9). From the perspective of the psalmist, the covenant is intact and things appear, at least for the moment, to be well ordered and calm. Isn’t it wonderful when we have those moments in our lives and we can say “It is well with my soul!”?
The sons of Korah then bring this psalm to a climax with one of the most memorable and theologically important phrases found in the psalter: “Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other…” (vs. 10). These are four of the key themes of the covenant: love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace. So often, both in the psalms and in our own experience, these four key realities can be difficult to see coming together. In order to re-establish justice/righteousness, wars must be fought. Covenant love, though steadfast, is still frequently violated by faithlessness which seems to continually test the covenant love of God.
This psalm foreshadows the time when love and faithfulness will meet; when righteousness and peace will kiss each other. There are four times when this actually happens; when righteousness, peace, love and faithfulness all come together. The first time occurred in the incarnation. Jesus fully embodied both righteousness and peace; he is the very incarnation of God’s love and faithfulness.
The second time occurred on the cross of Jesus Christ. In the mystery of the cross, Jesus bore our sins, thus fully satisfying God’s righteousness, and, in the process, reconciled, or made peace, between a holy God and a sinful world. On the cross, it may truly be said that righteousness and peace kiss each other. There is no greater expression of God’s love, nor sign of his covenant faithfulness than the cross.
The third time this occurs is in the mystery of the Eucharist. The sacrament is the ongoing reminder of the sacrifice of Christ which brings love, faithfulness, righteousness, and peace together. The Eucharist is the visible knot which ties heaven and earth together.
The fourth time when these great realities will all come together still await us. They will all come together in perfect harmony in the New Creation at the climax of the ages. In the New Creation, this will be a permanent state of reality, which is why in our own dysfunctional, disjointed, discordant times, we long for the return of Christ who will set all things right.
In the meantime, the church is called to embody all of these qualities in the present. We will never get it just right, but we are called to embody tangible signs of hope to a lost world, and to demonstrate that these great verities of the covenant—love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—will someday converge in a way which finally brings healing to the nations and gives unceasing praise and glory to God.