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“Longing” (Psalm 137:1-9)

INTRODUCTION: Our message series is called Home for Christmas, and we have been exploring the biblical them of home throughout the Scriptures using four words as a guide: 1) banished, 2) wandering, 3) longing and 4) home. So far we’ve looked at the first two words. We saw that God gave us a beautiful home with him in the garden, but we were banished from that home because of sin. As a result, we spent our lives wandering in sin far from God.

Today we come to the third word, which is “longing.” Not only are we banished from our original home with God and wandering because of sin, but God has built a longing for our true home with God into every human heart. We will be looking at a number of Scriptures throughout the message this morning, but let’s begin right here with Psalm 137. (Read Psalm 137:1,4 and pray.)


How many of you have ever been homesick? How many of you have ever been away from home and felt that longing for home deep in your heart? Most of us have felt homesick at one time or another, and it seems this longing for home only increases during the holidays when we are away from home.

Did you know that homesickness was once considered an actual sickness capable of causing physical illness or even death? There are death certificates from the 1800’s and earlier that list the cause of death as nostalgia – the word nostalgia coming from the two Greek words “nostos,” meaning returning home, and “algia,” meaning pain, as in neuralgia (“nerve pain”).

We all experience a longing in our hearts, and whether we realize it or not, it is really a longing for God and our true home with him. Banished from our true home with God because of sin and wandering far from God and his commands, we long for God and home and eternity. This morning I want us to look at three longings we find in Scripture: 1) a longing for home, 2) a longing for eternity, and 3) a longing for Jesus.

I. Longing for home

So, first of all, a longing for home. And for this we will look at the exiles in the Old Testament as an example of longing for home.

   A. The exiles as an example of longing for home
      – Deuteronomy 28:65; Psalm 137:1-9

We all have a built-in longing for home, which is why the exile was one of the most difficult experiences for the nation of Israel. God had warned Israel about the exile before they even entered the promised land. In the book of Deuteronomy, before Israel ever entered the promised land, God laid out blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. And the final curse for disobedience was exile.

We read in Deuteronomy 28: “The LORD will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other…. Among those nations you will find no repose, no resting place for the sole of your foot. There the Lord will give you an anxious mind, eyes weary with longing, and a despairing heart.” (Deuteronomy 28:65)

Israel was unfaithful to God and after many warnings from the prophets, all that God told her came true. In 722 B.C. the Assyrians came and brought the northern kingdom into exile. And in 586 B.C. the Babylonians came and brought the southern kingdom into exile.

We find a heartbreaking description of Israel’s longing for home in Psalm 137. This psalm was written in Babylon after the southern kingdom went into exile, and it is perhaps one of the saddest songs ever written. Listen to the emotion and longing for home throughout the psalm.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars
we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy.

Remember, O Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!” O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (Psalm 137:1-9)

Now those final words are especially shocking to us, but the whole psalm is full of longing and agony and distress. The exiles are a particularly heartbreaking example of longing for home.

   B. Finding our true home in God
      – Psalm 61:4, 84:1-4; 90:1-2

And yet this is true of all of us. We are spiritual exiles. We are all longing for home, and the Scriptures repeatedly point us back to our true home in God.

David writes in Psalm 61:4: “I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” (Psalm 61:4)

Another psalmist writes in Psalm 84: “How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, O Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” (Psalm 84:1-4)

Moses writes in Psalm 90: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.” (Psalm 90:1-2)

It’s been said: “There is within every one of us a God-shaped vacuum that only God can fill.” People try to fill that space with so much stuff. Sometimes we try to fill it with good things like relationships, or work, or art or music. Sometimes we try to fill it with bad things like drugs or alcohol or other things that do us harm. But you’re never going to fill that space with something else, because it is a God-shaped vacuum and only God can fill that empty space within you.

We all have this built in longing for our true home with God. As one agnostic philosopher put it: “I don’t believe in God, but I miss Him.” (Julian Barnes) We are spiritual exiles, and we all long for our true home with God. We are all longing for home.

II. Longing for eternity

We are not only longing for home. We also find ourselves longing for eternity.

   A. We know there must be more to this life
      – Ecclesiastes 3:10-11

We read in Ecclesiastes 3: “I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:10-11) God has set eternity in our hearts, and we know deep down inside that there must be more to this life. That’s why we’re never satisfied, why we always seem to be reaching for something more, something that seems just out of our reach.

Greg Koukl in his excellent book, The Story of Reality, writes about “the kind of perfect world our hearts have always longed for, even when we cannot quite get it into focus. The longing itself is a clue for us – an ache in our hearts reminding us of the way things used to be, a sign that we were made for something better – though, for the moment, we have lost our way – and a hunger for the world to be that way again.… God has put eternity in our hearts, and that sweet pain may be evidence of it, a primal memory deep in our souls reminding us of the way the world started – good, wonderful, whole, complete.” (Gregory Koukl, The Story of Reality, Kindle location 1219, p. 83)

C.S. Lewis spoke about “our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside.” (Lewis, Weight of Glory, p. 42) What’s on the other side of the door? We are longing for eternity.

And that longing for eternity is itself a clue that eternity exists. As C.S. Lewis writes again: “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exist. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling desires to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire, which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, pp. 136-137)

God has set eternity in our hearts. We know there must be more to this life.

   B. We long for our eternal home
      – 2 Corinthians 5:1-2, 6-8; Hebrews 11:16

And so, as believers we long for our eternal home. We read in Hebrews 11 about the Old Testament saints who lived by faith. Hebrews 11:16 says: “They were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:16)

Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling…. As long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:1-2 ,6-8)

As Christians we live by faith, not by sight. We are not only longing for home. We are longing for eternity. We long for our eternal home.

III. Longing for Jesus

In the long run we are really longing for Jesus. That’s what the season of Advent is all about. Advent is all about longing for Christ and his coming. The Old Testament believers longed for Christ’s first coming. As Christians today, we long for Christ’s second coming.

   A. Longing for Christ’s first coming
      – Isaiah 9:2,6

During Advent season we reflect on how God’s people waited for Christ to come the first time. God promised to send the Messiah, and the people waited through long years of darkness and desperation for Messiah to come.

They clung to prophecies like Isaiah 9 where we read: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned…. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:2,6)

These prophecies were fulfilled when Jesus was born at Bethlehem. God sent Jesus as the promised Messiah. Jesus was born into our world. He lived with us, he loved us, he taught us, he died for us, he rose again and returned to heaven.

   B. Longing for Christ’s second coming
      – 2 Timothy 4:7-8

And now just as the Old Testament believers longed for Christ’s first coming, so we long for Christ’s second coming. The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 4 near the end of his life: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

As Christians we long for Christ’s return, and that is also part of what Advent is all about. When we sing songs like “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” or “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” we are not only remembering the longing for Christ’s first coming at Christmas. We are expressing our own longing for Christ’s return.

CONCLUSION: We all have a built-in longing for home. But our true home is found in God alone. Christ came the first time to make a way home for us to God. Christ will come a second time to bring us home with him for eternity.

All this longing we have been talking about this morning – this longing for God and home and eternity? It is really all longing for Jesus. Only Jesus can fill the longing in your heart. And that is why we celebrate him at Christmas.

© Ray Fowler

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