Max Lucado tells the story of a woman who had a parakeet named Chippy. Chippy’s cage needed to be cleaned out and she decided to clean it with the vacuum cleaner while Chippy was still in it. Just as she stuck the tube in the bottom of the cage, the phone rang. When she turned to answer the phone she heard a slurp. She turned back around and Chippy was gone! She was frantic! She opened the vacuum cleaner and there he was covered with dust and suet, and grime. She took him to the bathroom, put him under the faucet and washed him off. There he was all wet and shivering, so she got her hair dryer and blasted Chippy with hot air until he was all fluffed up again and she put him back in his cage.
A reporter heard about this and came to do an interview with the lady so he could write a story about it. He asked, “How’s Chippy?” She said, “He seems to be back to normal except for one thing. Chippy doesn’t sing any more: he just sits and stares.”
I can only imagine! After being sucked up, washed up and blown dry, Chippy had lost his song. A lot of Christians have lost their song, too.
1)Take a look at Psalm 137:1-4. “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion. We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof. For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion. How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
The Israelites have been carried away captive and they’ve lost their song. God had blessed His chosen people by giving them a land, a law and a Lord. But they defiled the land, they defied the law and they denied the Lord. As a result, they were carried away captive into Babylon.
Babylon is a real place, but it’s also a symbolic place. Babylon was known for the thing its name implies: confusion. Babylon was vain, vile and vexed. Babylon was a hellish city and Jerusalem was a holy city.
Jerusalem was known for its saints, for its salvation, and for its song. But the people had been carried away from the holy city to the heathen city. God’s people are in captivity, so they’ve lost their song.
What does that have to do with you? Well, as a Christian, you can be taken captive by the world, the flesh and the devil. Spiritually, you can be living in Babylon. And when you’re living in Babylon you’re going to ask yourself this question: How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?
I know Christians who’ve lost their song because they’re in exile. When you get saved you become a free-born citizen of Heaven….of the New Jerusalem. When God saves you, He puts a song in your heart. But sin can steal your song.
Having said that, I want you to see some things. First, I want you to see the sad misery of a captured Christian. 2)Verse 1 says, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept…” When you’re taken captive by the world, the flesh and the devil, there will be misery in your heart. The most miserable man on earth is not the lost man. The most miserable man on earth is a saved man out of fellowship with God.
God’s people were meant for Jerusalem, not Babylon. But when they’re taken captive to Babylon, they sat down and wept.
One of the ways you can know you’re saved is that when you find yourself living in sin you don’t have joy. God has engineered it so you can’t be joyful and out of fellowship with Him at the same time. Sin and joy can’t dwell in the same Christian heart.
What is joy anyway? It’s not laughter. 3)Ecclesiastes 7:5-6 says, “It is better to hear the rebuke of the wise, than for a man to hear the song of fools. For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fool: this also is vanity.”
This world is laughing its way into Hell. Listen to the sitcoms: this is the laughter of fools. The devil knows that whatever he can get people to laugh at they can never take seriously again. That’s true whether its homosexuality, perversion, lust, blaspheme, etc. The Bible says that this is like thorns crackling under a pot, which describes the crackling of a fire because of that which is being consumed.
Laughter is not joy. There’s nothing wrong with laughter, but it’s no substitute for joy. A few years ago they were having things called laughing revivals. People would go to church and just start laughing uncontrollably. They said, “This must be revival because we’re laughing it up!”
That’s not revival! Revival begins with weeping and results in happiness and deep joy.
Laugher is not joy, but neither is happiness. You’re not supposed to be happy all the time. Happiness is like the surface of the sea. If it’s calm, you’re happy; but sometimes storms and waves whip up and you’re unhappy. But way down deep there is a part of the ocean that’s never disturbed. That’s the way joy is. Joy is something you have way down deep no matter what’s happening on the surface.
It’s a great combination to be happy and to have joy at the same time, but joy can be there in times of sadness also. The joy of the Lord doesn’t take away the sadness or the pain; it helps you to bear it. Happiness and sadness may come and go, but if you’re right with the Lord your joy remains.
Laughter is not joy, happiness is not joy, and being successful is not joy. The most successful people are not always the most joyful. You can have great success and grow deeper into despondency. Those who aren’t successful think they’ll have joy if they can become successful. Therefore, they have something to reach for. But those who are successful find out that joy is not in their success, so they don’t even have anything left to reach for.
A little boy loved pancakes. One morning he asked his mom if he could have all the pancakes he wanted for breakfast. She decided she’d give him all the pancakes he wanted. He ate, and ate, and ate, and there were still pancakes on the griddle. She said, “Son, do you want another pancake?” He said, “No, mommy, I don’t even want the ones I’ve already had!”
That’s the way it is with success. When you get all you want, you begin to realize there’s a diminishing return.
What is true joy? Joy is the ecstasy of eternity in a soul that’s made peace with God and is ready to do His will. You don’t find this joy; it finds you.
Joy is God’s plan for you. If you don’t have joy, it’s because you’ve been taken captive. The God who wants to give you joy loves you so much that He’ll take away your joy if you live in sin.
Look at 4) Jeremiah 25. God is speaking to the children of Israel, but He’s also talking to us. 5) Jeremiah 25:4 says, “And the Lord hath sent unto you all his servants the prophets, rising early and sending them; but ye have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear.” God sends His preachers, but the people wouldn’t listen to them. Look at 6) Jeremiah 25:5-11. “They said, Turn ye again now every one from his evil way, and from the evil of your doings, and dwell in the land that the Lord hath given unto you and to your fathers for ever and ever: and go not after other gods to serve them, and to worship them, and provoke me not to anger with the works of your hands; and I will do you no hurt. Yet ye have not hearkened unto me, saith the Lord: that ye might provoke me to anger with the works of your hands to your own hurt. Therefore thus saith the Lord of hosts; Because ye have not heard my words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the Lord, and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and against all these nations round about, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones, and the light of the candle. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”
God says, “I sent you my prophets, but you wouldn’t listen to them. So, instead of you, I’ll use a pagan king as my servant and I will carry you into Babylon for your own good.”
If you’re living in misery today, even though there may be happiness in your life and success in your life, and laughter in your life; there’s no song and no joy in your heart. It’s because you’ve been taken captive for your own good. God loves you too much to let you be backslidden and still have joy in your heart.
Once upon a time there was a family of wayward members in a church. At one time they were active members, but they lost all interest and fell away. The deacons talked to the father and his sons, Jim, John and Sam about their condition. The preacher had visited them many times and other brethren had tried to get them back in church. All had failed. But one day, when the boys were out in the pasture, a large rattlesnake bit John and he became very ill. A physician was called who, after an examination, pronounced John to be in critical condition. The doctor said, “About all you can do is pray.” And he went his way. The father called the preacher and told him about John and asked him to pray for him. This was the preacher’s prayer: “Oh, wise and righteous Father, we thank Thee that in Thy wisdom Thou hast sent this rattlesnake to bite John in order to bring him to his senses. He hasn’t been inside the church for years and it’s doubtful that in all this time he’s felt the need for prayer. Now we trust that this will be a valuable lesson to him and that it will lead him to genuine repentance. And now, O Father, wilt thou send another snake to bite Jim and Sam, and a big one to bite the old man? We’ve been doing everything we know for years to restore them but to no avail. It seems that all our combined efforts couldn’t do what this one snake has done. Thus we conclude that the only thing left that will do this family any good is more rattlesnakes. So Lord, send us bigger and better rattlesnakes we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.”
God says, “I’m going to send you away captive into Babylon for your own good.” God can use a rattlesnake or a pagan king named Nebuchadnezzar to take these people and show them that they can’t have sin and joy with the Lord at the same time.
We’ve been talking about the sad misery of a captured Christian. If some of you would be honest you’d have to say, “Pastor, there’s no song in my heart today. I’m a member of this church, I profess my faith in Christ, and I expect to go to Heaven. But inside I’m spiritually dry. I’ve lost my song.”
But here’s the second thing: the stinging memory of a Christian in exile. 7) Psalm 137:1 says, “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.” That’s the memory. They’re in exile. Their joy is gone. It’s compounded by the fact that they remember how it used to be.
What is Zion? That’s the holy hill where the temple was. That’s where the shikinah glory of God dwelt. That’s where the offering for sin was made. That’s where cleansing for sin was. That’s where the people met and worshipped and praised God. But all they have now is a memory.
Every real Christian remembers Zion. He remembers when he met the Lord. He remembers when he experienced Jesus. He remembers when Jesus was sweet and real and precious to him.
*) If Jesus has never been real to you; if He’s never been sweet and precious to you; if you’ve never known the shikinah glory of God; if you’ve never had a song; if you’ve never known sin forgiven and the burden lifted, you won’t weep when you get to Babylon. You’ll never no the difference.
Some of you may be living in sin and you couldn’t care less. You don’t have anything to remember. You’ve never known the presence of God. When I talk about the misery of the believer that comes when he’s out of fellowship with God, it all goes right past you. You don’t understand it because you’ve never really known Jesus.
People will come to church for a while and they may get baptized and sing in the choir, etc. But then they lapse and go away. They have no sweet memories. They can remember that they were once in church, but God was never real to them. They don’t have anything to remember.
But I’m talking to others this morning who can say that there was a time when Jesus was real to you. There was a time when the love of God was like a burning fire in your heart. Praise was real in your heart. But it’s all just a memory now.
That’s what these people had. They wept because they remembered Zion. Is there a time when Jesus was real to you, but now you’re in exile and all you have is memory?
Here’s the third thing: the sarcastic mockery of a captured Christian. Look at 8) Psalm 137:2. “We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.” There were weeping willows there by the river of Babylon. These Jews, who would play their songs on a harp, hung those harps in the willow trees. Look at 9) verse 3. “For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.”
The Babylonians were mocking them. They were being sarcastic. They were saying, “You’ve got such a mighty God…..why didn’t He protect you? Your God must not be as strong as the gods of Babylon. We came and carried you away captive. It was easy! And you call yourselves the people of God? Sing us one of your songs. Sing a song of Zion!”
They had misery, memory and mockery. The Babylonians were mocking the God of Israel! They were holding these people up to ridicule! Do you know what breaks my heart? The hoards of Hell are laughing….and some of them are laughing at you. You’ve been taken captive. Rather than being a testimony, you’re a detriment to the cause of Christ.
When Samson was taken captive by the Philistines the Bible says, “They made sport of him.” The world loves to make sport of a captured Christian!
A few years ago, there were several well-known TV evangelists who got into immorality. They became the butt of the jokes of the late night comedians. They were laughing at the so-called men of God who were taken captive by the world, the flesh and the devil. How the people of Babylon rejoiced!
The world loves to blur the distinction between Jerusalem and Babylon. They like to take our songs and sing them in their context. “Sing us a song of Zion.”
You can go to a night club somewhere and someone will start to sing Amazing Grace and everyone will join in. The world has taken the Gospel and made it just one more of the world’s art forms. Babylon sings our songs, not because they believe our songs; they just sing our songs for entertainment. They love to blur the distinction between Jerusalem and Babylon.
Some Christian singers do what they call “crossover.” They sing in church, but then they sing in Vegas. They sing for God’s people, but then they sing for Babylon.
Listen, we ought always to sing to Babylon, but never for Babylon. There’s a big difference! You don’t take holy things and cast your pearls before the swine.
You see this at Christmas time. The people of Babylon are singing Away In The Manger. On New Years Day they’re singing Auld Lang Sine in drunken debauchery. They love to confuse it and mix it all together.
God’s people are to be different and distinct. But, oh, how the world loves to mock! The world, in sarcasm, loves to take the things of God and mix them up with the things of Babylon. And then they stand back and say, “Oh, you pitiful thing. You’re no different than we are. Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” What a disgrace! This is when Christians lose their distinctiveness.
Misery, memory and mockery come when a Christian is taken captive. But now think of the stolen melody of the Christian taken captive. Look at 10) verse 4 “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?”
Every one of us has been given a song….a song of deliverance. 11) Psalm 32:7 says, “Thou art my hiding place; thou shalt preserve me from trouble; thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance.”
Do you know what the first public song was in the Bible? It’s in 12) Exodus 15 after God brought the Jews out of Egypt and set them free. It’s called the song of Moses and the Lamb. It’s a song of deliverance. I would love to have been there to hear that song! Can you imagine 600,000 male voices in the chorus singing praise to God because He’d brought them out of captivity with a Passover Lamb?
13) Psalm 40:2 says, “He brought me up out of the horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings. And he hath put a new song in my mouth, even praise unto our God: many shall see it, and fear, and shall trust in the Lord.”
We have the song of a soul set free. You can’t sing that song in bondage.
Do you know why some folks won’t sing during the song service? They don’t have a song to sing. “Let those refuse to sing who never knew our Lord.” Folks, when you’re redeemed, you can’t help but sing!
Sometimes I look at the faces of people during the song service. I’ve seen better looking faces on bottles of iodine! I have to wonder, “Is Jesus real to those people?”
It reminds me of the preacher who called on one of his men and said, “Brother Jones, would you please stand and lead us in a word of criticism?”
All of us can carry a tune. Some of us have trouble unloading it, but all of us can carry a tune! 14) Ephesians 5:19 says, “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord.”
There’s only one thing that can take away your melody…..sin. Suffering can’t do it. Jesus was in the Upper Room just before dark Gethsemane and bloody Golgotha. He’s there with His disciples. Do you know what He’s talking about? He’s talking about His joy. 15) John 15:11 says, “These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.”
He’s facing agony on the cross! And 16) Matthew 26:30 says, “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.” Jesus is singing His way to Gethsemane!
You say, “Pastor, there’s cancer in my body. There’s bankruptcy in my finances. There’s dissension in my home, etc.” Well, there can still be a song in your heart! Sorrow can’t take away your song.
The Bible tells us that at midnight Paul and Silas sang praises unto God when they were in a Philipian jail. Their backs had been cut to ribbons, but they were singing. God was so pleased with that that He sent His earthquake angel. It was a concert that literally brought the house down!
The joy of God is not there to remove the pain; it’s there to help you bear the pain.
There is the stolen melody of the captured Christian. But I have wonderful news for you. The God who sent these Christians away captive for their good is also the God that brought them back from captivity. What is the song you can sing even in a strange land? How about “I’ve wondered far away from God and now I’m coming home.”
Has the devil stolen your song? David, who had gotten into deep sin and gotten away from God said in 16) Psalm 51, “O, Lord, restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation…and my tongue shall sing aloud of Thy righteousness.”
If you’ve lost the joy of His salvation, I want you to come home today. Renounce all sin and say, “Lord, anew and afresh I’m giving my heart back to you. Lord, I want personal revival. I want the joy back! I want the song back!”
Or, maybe you’ve never known a song. You don’t have a Zion to remember. Maybe you’ve never been saved. Well, if you want real joy, let Jesus into your heart. You can do it today.