Ash Wednesday, Righteousness and Peace

2nd March 2022

Psalm 85, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

What does it mean that “righteousness and peace kiss each other” in Psalm 85:10?

When Psalm 85:10 states that “righteousness and peace kiss each other,” the psalmist is personifying two of God’s attributes and how they work together.

Psalm 85 was written by the sons of Korah (great leaders in choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle during King David’s time) and recalls God’s restoration of Israel.

Verses 1–3 demonstrate how God had restored Israel in the past and turned away His wrath.  Remembering God’s mercy in restoring Israel, the psalmist petitions the Lord to restore them yet again (Psalm 85:4).

Knowing of God’s mercy and unfailing love, the psalmist rhetorically asks if the Lord will remain angry forever (Psalm 85: 5–7).

Based on God’s faithful salvation, the psalmist is confident that He will not continue in His wrath.  God promises “peace to his people, his faithful servants,” but urges them to stay away from folly, for the Lord will save those who fear Him (Psalm 85: 8–9).

Fear of God may refer to fear itself, but more often it refers to a sense of awe, and submission to His supernatural divine deity.  This is what it means here.  Fearing God is good because it saves us from caving into our own sinful nature. That’s why hearing someone is God-fearing should actually make us trust that person more.  If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness.

In fact, Romans 3, a classic chapter on sin, says that our chief sin is that we “have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:18).  So how does fear of God, who is perfect love, take away fear?

The theologian, William D. Eisenhower puts it this way in his article ‘Fearing God” in Christianity Today:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal ….

That got me thinking…. What happens if I use the word Russia in this paragraph….

Unfortunately, many of us presume that Russia is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than Russia …. When we assume that Russia is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, Russia’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to Russia’s equal ….

William D. Eisenhower goes on to say…

As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me.  He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free.  He casts me down, only to lift me up again.  He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

And, of course, the ultimate example of fear and perfect love working together is Jesus Christ.  He warned us at every turn to fear God, not humanity, not Putin, and He confirmed this in everything about His life and death.  He spoke lovingly but frankly to all and didn’t mince words when people needed to face their sin and repent.  But He also demonstrated love beyond human understanding when He lived out His words, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

With love like that, what is left to fear but God?

So back to the Psalm, in verse 10 the psalmist turns to personification:

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10).  Other translations say that righteousness and peace “will embrace” (GNT) or “will unite” (CEV).

The idea is that the Lord’s attributes of righteousness and peace would harmonise to provide comfort to Israel.  The attributes of righteousness and peace are also linked in Isaiah 32:17:

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”

A kiss was a common form of greeting in ancient times, and still is in many cultures.  The word picture painted in Psalm 85:10 is one of two friends greeting each other as if they had been separated for a long time.  Righteousness and peace have been estranged, but now they are friends again.

As long as Israel remained in a sinful, unrepentant state the righteousness of God was opposed to peace on earth, but now they are united the result is joy, a friendly embrace, and delightful harmony.

The personification in Psalm 85 is continued in verse 11:

“Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

Here we see that faithfulness is described as springing up “from the earth,” and righteousness as looking down “from heaven.”  The mention of heaven and earth suggests that more is being unified than just the attributes of God.  Heaven and earth are uniting, resulting in peace and blessing for God’s people.

I think that this description is a foreshadow of the angels’ song in Luke 2:14:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Using the imagery of a harvest, the psalmist is then assured that God will answer Israel’s prayer for restoration:

“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” (Psalm 85:12–13).

Despite the wrongdoing done by the nation, God would extend grace to the Israelites.  Despite the wrong-doing of Russia invading Ukraine, God will extend His grace to the Russians.  He cannot do anything else! 

So this Psalm teaches an amazing truth: God’s grace is greater than our sin, in fact greater than any sin.  Through His righteousness, peace, faithfulness, and love coming together God would bring peace to Israel once again.

But note, righteousness comes before peace and from my study of Scripture wherever righteousness and peace are mentioned together righteousness always comes first.  So if we want peace in our life, and in God’s world, we need to be living in righteousness with God, where righteousness is acting in accord with God’s perfect divine and moral law.  When we do this, we experience freedom from guilt and sin.

The last thing I wish to say is this:  The ultimate fulfilment of love and faithfulness “meeting together” and of righteousness and peace “kissing” is found in Jesus Christ’s work to reconcile the world to God.  Spinning the Ukraine situation on its head God could be giving us all, during this season of Lent, an opportunity through Jesus to experience a fresh peace with God and forgiveness of sins (Romans 5:1).  You see God never wastes an opportunity for us to come closer to Him. 

Today God wants us to know in a new and deeper way that because of His love and mercy, we can have eternal life through His death and resurrection (Romans 10:9–11).  Just as God didn’t deal with Israel as they deserved in the Old Testament, so He has offered us His unmerited grace in spite of what we’ve done.

In Jesus, we are declared righteous, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of who He is (Ephesians 2:8–9).  The “kiss” of righteousness and peace brings us peace with God.  Because of this we need not live in fear of what is going on at present, as worrying as it appears. 

You see as Christians we should know that due to our identity in Christ, based on the truth that we are beloved friends and children of our heavenly Father, we should be certain of our ultimate destination, heaven. 

In closing I would like to share this picture with you, from one of our parishioners last week.

Jesus is the Door

One day, in a quiet place, I was considering this teaching from John 10:7-10, 7Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

As I was quietly considering possibilities of other ways and the consequences of being a “thief and a robber” a clear picture came into my mind: I was in my house, this represented the world, standing at the bottom of a staircase that led up into heaven, the next world; Jesus dressed in white was standing halfway down with arms outstretched towards me welcoming me up. I felt safe and knew He was the Way …

Come, all of you who are weary of what is going on around us in the world, look up, see Jesus is standing in front of you with arms outstretched, welcoming you into His glorious presence.

Footnote Of all the psalms in the Bible, eleven are attributed to the sons of Korah.  These beautiful psalms express a spirit of great gratitude and humility to an awesome, mighty God.  They express a longing for God and deep devotion.  These poetic songs include Psalms 42, 44—49, 84—85, and 87—88.  Psalm 42:1 contains the beautiful line, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  Psalm 84:1 states, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O God.”  Psalm 46:1–3 conveys the powerful message, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”