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“Lord, Teach Us to Number our Days”

1st Sunday after Christmas – December 27th, 2009


Psalm 90

The famous hymn of Isaac Watts, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which just happens to be one of my
absolute favorite hymns, is based upon the Mosaic Psalm that I just read for you. How beautifully the hymn-writer
contrasts the mortality of man with the eternity of God, not as a point of comparison to drive us to hopelessness and
despair, but instead, as a reason for hope, so that we remember that the eternity of God is the solution to our
mortality, his eternal Word, his eternal promises, his eternal love and care. “A thousand ages in your sight are like an
evening gone...Time like an ever-rolling stream soon bears us all way...O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to
come, still be our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home.”
Today is the last Sunday of 2009. How quickly the year has flown by! But before we say goodbye to this
past year and this past decade, we join to offer this prayer to our God, produced from our meditation on the 90th
Psalm: “Lord, teach us to number our days.” With each passing year, we are made ever more aware of our
mortality, that our days are numbered on this earth, and how we have absolutely no idea which day, which month
or which year is going to be our last. Yet, in the uncertainty of our earthly mortality, we find comfort in the eternity
of our God, our hope for years to come, because he is merciful in granting us time on earth to come to faith and to
extend the gospel to those who remain in darkness and the shadow of death!

I. Because we are mortal

Psalm 90 is the only Psalm in the entire Psalter that is attributed to Moses. (Maybe you thought that every
Psalm was written by King David...) It is a Psalm whose content is very appropriate for the end of a year, because it
reminds the reader of two very important things – the mortality of man, which is an inevitability as the “wages of
sin,” and the eternity of God which is the ultimate solution to the mortality of man.
Death is not always a pleasant subject to talk about. I wouldn’t imagine that too many of us would desire
to engage in a lengthy conversation about end of life circumstances, especially our own. But, understand that death
is something that every single sinful human being succumbs to. Moses knew that truth oh so well. Throughout the
40 years in the wilderness, he had seen death’s terrible wages among God’s children more times than we would like
to imagine. When the Israelites built the golden calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, that unthinkable sin, 3,000 Israelites
were put to death. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the high priest, were put to death by God himself,
consumed in the tabernacle of the Most High when they offered unauthorized fire, perhaps even entering into the
holy sanctuary inebriated. And Moses, not even he could escape death’s wages. Even as he composes this 90th psalm
was entering the last part of his earthly journey – he knew that his end was drawing near and that his death would
serve at just one more piece of evidence of how serious God is about sin and how severe its consequences are.
Listen to verses 3-11 one more time: 3 You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” 4 For
a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in
the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning— 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is
dry and withered. 7 We are consumed by your anger and terrified by your indignation. 8 You have set our iniquities before
you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. 9 All our days pass away under your wrath; we finish our years with a
moan. 10 The length of our days is seventy years— or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and
sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away. 11 Who knows the power of your anger? For your wrath is as great as the fear
that is due you.”
We are mortal. Do we need any more reason to ask our Lord this day to teach us to number our days
aright? 2009 has come and gone and the pages of the obituaries in the Monroe Evening News have been filled with
pictures and names of people we knew, people we loved, people we had contact with in our lives, and many that we
never knew, people we never had contact with, and sadly, some people that may have never been reached with the
gospel that saves from eternal death. 2009, just like every other year has heard the funeral bells tolling for so many.
And as we enter 2010, who of us can say with absolute 100% confidence and certainty that we will see 2011, 2012
and beyond?
We are mortal, our days are numbered. That’s a fact that is so obvious and so elementary, so common to
the human experience, that one need not be a Bible-believing Christian to grasp it. God didn’t intend for mankind
to die when he created them. He didn’t intend that Adam and Eve would fall into the devil’s trap in Eden. He
didn’t intend for man to be like the flowers of the field, blooming in beauty, but only living for a short time. Yet,
because sin entered the world, death entered the world. And for those with the proper spiritual insight, given by the
Holy Spirit, the mortality of man is a daily reminder of the seriousness of the consequences of man’s rebellion
against God, and that for us, too, there is a limit to our days on earth.

II. Because you are merciful

“Lord, teach us to number our days,” we pray this day, just as Moses prayed in the second part of Psalm 90.
Listen to his concluding prayer, verses 12 through 17: 12 Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart
of wisdom. 13 Relent, O LORD! How long will it be? Have compassion on your servants. 14 Satisfy us in the morning with
your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. 15 Make us glad for as many days as you have
afflicted us, for as many years as we have seen trouble. 16 May your deeds be shown to your servants, your splendor to their
children. 17 May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work
of our hands.” 
Moses’ prayer contains two specific pleas that we echo on this last Sunday of 2009. The first is a plea for
continued wisdom and understanding. While the world we live in is filled with death, with desolation, with grief
and sadness every single day and every single year, (which we can expect), we ask our God to help us make the most
of our time of grace, that we strive to be filled with spiritual understanding, using our time on earth wisely instead
of simply seeking to fill our lives with worthless things that will perish. We ask our God to bring us, in his Holy
Word, to the manger and to the cross of Jesus, because our sins, which promise death, have been laid upon the
Lamb of God, who promises eternal life through his death and resurrection.
And finally this prayer of Moses includes a plea for mercy, that God would continue to grant us time in this
world so that we may serve him. Each day that we have is a day of grace, undeserved love where our God chooses to
allow us to live one more day to his glory. Each day is a new opportunity to labor in love for the good of the
kingdom, to labor in the gospel so that we ourselves grow in our understanding of God’s love for us in Christ Jesus,
and so that we may reach out with the gospel, so that those living in the darkness of unbelief may be freed from the
slavery of fear and the slavery of death, through the knowledge of their Savior Jesus, who grants eternal life to all
who believe.
The end of the year is always a good time to take stock in how richly the Lord has blessed each and every
one of us this past year. Give thanks, dear friends, that he has kept you safe and sound through 2009, and that he
has given you many opportunities to serve him in his kingdom. As we enter 2010 and beyond, keep praying the
prayer of Moses: “Lord, teach me to number my days aright.” For when we realize that our days are numbered on
this earth, when we recognize both by nature and by faith in God’s Word that our time is limited, we will give
thanks to him for mercifully granting us each new day of grace, and we will be driven to make use of every
opportunity to gain hearts of wisdom in the gospel, so that we, in turn, may lead those in darkness and the shadow
of death to the light of life – the Savior who loves all people and gave himself for them. “O God, our help in ages
past, our hope for years to come, still be our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home!” Amen.