Darkness can be terrifying.
When we’re young, the literal darkness hides the horrible things that our imaginations fill in. At that point in life, our limited experience has not yet fully convinced us that monsters and aliens and other horrors don’t actually exist.
As we get older, perhaps the imagined fears give way to worse fears because they are real fears. Sure, there’s the ever-present fear of trying to navigate a room in the dark with the threat of getting a LEGO in your foot. But more than that, there are unsafe places in the world and there are real dangers out there. Darkness makes it that much harder to see the danger coming and wind up in a bad state.
And the psalm we’re looking at today mentions a few that can give us pause. Terror by night. Arrows by day. Traps. And maybe the most prescient, three times mentions plague and pestilence.
There are dangers in the dark that give us pause even as adults. Other people who want to hurt us because they’re desperate or greedy or just disturbed. There are dangers that fly even in the day that may keep us up at night. It’s a dangerous business just going out your door sometimes; we tend not to think about the thousand horrible things that could happen to us on just a trip to the store under normal circumstances. And today? Well today we’ve all got one thing at the forefront of our minds, don’t we? Pandemic. Now we’re all told it’s more dangerous than ever just to set foot outside. It can feel dark all around.
And the darkness is scary because it hides things. Darkness is dangerous when you can’t see what might hurt you there. And things like a novel coronavirus, well it doesn’t need the darkness to hide, it’s just plain invisible. Contrary to our belief of pulling the blanket over our heads, what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. And what you don’t know can indeed be very dangerous.
But you know what? Those are not the things that should scare you. There’s another kind of far more harmful and deadly danger in our lives. There’s another real danger hiding in the darkness; laying traps, shooting arrows, and spreading a plague far, far more serious than COVID-19. It’s there, it’s real, and it’s worse than deadly.
And not a single one of us can see it on our own. It’s hiding in the dark, and the dark is all around us.
I’m talking about the fight for your soul, the fight over your eternity. We come into this world totally in the dark about it. Totally ignorant of what is going on beneath all this. You see, in this world there is one hidden path to eternal life – everywhere else leads to destruction. But we are in the dark. And on so many levels.
For one, we don’t know the danger we’re in. At the end of this life it will be decided: will you spend eternity in paradise or torture? That is a simple fact that we are born not knowing. And there’s no way to even figure that out from the world. It’s just plain hidden. And this is going to decide your eternity. Eternity... is one of those concepts that just blows your mind. No matter how many years you’ve spent here, you still have no frame of reference to compare that to eternity!
Think about all the time you’ve been alive. Imagine if all of that time had been nothing but the worst pain you’ve ever experienced. My imagination rejects the idea and just comes up with “yeah that’s bad.” And that’s eternity barely warming up.
What’s my point? The danger of eternal punishment is the only danger that should really scare us.
And like I said, we’re brought to this world not even knowing quite a bit about that danger. We are very in the dark about it all.
…we don’t know there’s more to come after this life.
…we don’t know that where we spend that eternity is decided when we die here.
…we don’t know that we’re straight on the path to damnation
…we don’t even know that the alternative path to heaven is utterly hidden from us.
That’s the scary darkness we’re born in. Where is the hope in this darkness? Of course, most of us here today know. Let’s hear it again in the words of our psalm:
One who lives in the shelter of the Most High
will stay in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD,
“My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
Surely he will rescue you from the fowler’s trap,
from the destructive plague.
With his feathers he will cover you,
and under his wings you will find refuge.
His truth will be your shield and armor.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the plague that prowls in the darkness,
nor the pestilence that destroys at noon.
Yes, the psalm mentions some dangers, things that could make life dark. But what it says is that God will protect you. He makes it so we don’t need to be afraid of any of those dangers. How? Why?
Zero in on the end of verse 4:
His truth will be your shield and armor.
In many ways the real danger and fear posed by darkness is in ignorance. We can’t see what’s in the dark, we don’t know what’s there and thus it can hurt us and thus we are afraid of it. But God knows all. God sees all, and God brings light to our lives with truth. He shows us not only the dangers all around, but he shows us the one path that leads to eternal life and then takes us by the hand to walk it.
God does not share all his knowledge with us, of course, but he shares more than enough for us to be safe, to see where we’re going and have no cause to be afraid. He tells us all we need to know in his Word and that light lets us see.
It lets us see that heaven is only open to those who do everything he asks
It lets us see that we cannot do what he asks
It lets us see that he has done it all for us in Jesus.
In Jesus we have been credited a perfect life and in Jesus’ death and resurrection we have been forgiven all our sins. And in God’s grace and mercy we have been made to believe this by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came to us each and granted us a new heart that knows God, trusts God, and wants to do what God asks.
The truth that God shares with us, the truth he causes us to trust lets us see in the dark, it brings light to the dark, and since we can see, we don’t have to fear the dangers around us here.
But, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can just relax and ignore them either.
Pardon an example that’s a little on the nose, but imagine being stuck in the middle of a pitch-black warehouse full of traps. Pits or explosives or sharp objects or whatever you want. Very dangerous, very deadly all around in the dark. There is an exit, but again, it’s pitch-black. You’d never make it.
Now, someone turns on the floodlights. And that someone comes in to lead you along the one safe path to the exit. You are saved! No more despair! BUT, just because you can see where you’re going and have someone leading you… well that doesn’t mean the danger doesn’t still exist, right? The traps are all still there, you need to tread carefully and follow your savior’s lead to make it out safely. You can’t just wander off in whatever direction you like or ignore your rescuer. You need to stay sharp and pay attention and follow that one safe path out. If you don’t follow carefully, you might as well have stayed in the dark!
That is the situation we find ourselves in now. We have been rescued. We have been given the light that drives back the darkness. We are on the path that leads away from death to eternal life.
But the dangers all around us are still very real. There is hope and help plenty. But we have to stay vigilant. We cannot let ourselves grow careless.
Because that great liar, the devil, still lays his traps out there. And he still tries to call us off the trail and away from the protection of our Lord. He can’t force off the path. He can’t take away your light. But he wants you to fail. He wants you to suffer alongside him. And so he whispers exactly the things you want to hear:
Oh that’s right, you know something awful about that other person – won’t people be paying you some attention to share that story?
Another drink? What’s the harm?
Go on, click that link. You’ll enjoy it and no one will know.
That person was really rude to you. That’s not fair! Let them have it.
Look, you have to do what’s best for you. Giving to God can come after that.
These are just examples of course. You know best what his voice sounds like. I know I do.
He can’t pull you away by force. But he strives and connives to lure you off. And it’s so easy to think… it’s not a big deal. Just one little step to the side… what’s the harm?
After all – the good things we do – those don’t save us. Jesus saves us. Does it really matter then if we skip this one or that one? And – how hard should I bother fighting that temptation? I always seem to give in in the end, and I know God will forgive me. So why even fight that hard? Or at all?
If the good doesn’t save us… and the wrongs are going to be forgiven? Then what does it matter if we stray a little?
I think you know the answer is yes. But let’s talk about why. Those “little things” are a lot more dangerous than they look. In fact, when I said way back when there was another danger in the dark we should be afraid of… well this is it.
You see, we are saved by God through faith. Faith is the thing in us that holds onto and trust the truth that Jesus died and rose to bring us to heaven. That faith isn’t even our doing, it is given to us by the Holy Spirit. And faith is not just… knowledge. It is a living trust in God. You may say, I can sin when I need to, I’m not going to forget that Jesus died for me. But it doesn’t work that way.
Follow this logical progression with me, if you will. The first and greatest command is you shall have no other gods. It means we fear, love, and trust in the Lord above everything else. Whenever we sin, we are breaking God’s commands. We are breaking trust with him. We are saying, “God I know you say not to do this, but I don’t trust you’re right. I think doing it will be better for me.” You see… sin erodes our trust in God. Sin destroys faith.
Every time we give in, we stray just a little further from the lit path and a little deeper back into the darkness. And every time we make it easier to think, “Do I really need that light to guide me at all?”
And maybe you’re left thinking: if it’s so dangerous to wander and it causes such damage then we’re in a bad state on our own. Because we do wander. We do give in to temptation. What can be done?
Well, today’s message is about hope, isn’t it? And God gives us that as we walk the path home with him. To continue the psalm:
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe it with your eyes.
You will see the punishment of the wicked.
Yes, you, LORD, are my refuge!
If you make the Most High your shelter,
evil will not overtake you.
Disaster will not come near your tent.
Yes, he will give a command to his angels concerning you,
to guard you in all your ways.
They will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra.
You will trample the young lion and the serpent.
There are dangers all around and maybe we wander into the dark for a bit, but God is here to call us back and hold us by his side. Every time we start to stray, we can look back at him and he will pull us in close and hold us tightly. His word is his power, his truth is still the light that shines the way. He has the power to restore the trust we let crumble. He has the power to build us back up in our faith.
We will stumble, we will make mistakes, we will wander. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need God. But let us always keep a healthy fear of the dark so that when we find ourselves in the dark we know, without hesitation, not to stay there, to turn our eyes back to God. In him is the light, and in him is safety.
God promises as we finish the psalm:
The LORD says,
Because he clings to me, I will rescue him.
I will protect him, because he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him.
I will be with him in distress.
I will deliver him and I will honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him,
and I will let him see my salvation.
The only thing that can take you away from God is you. If you wander, turn back. If you find yourself in the dark, turn back to the light of his hope. Rest in his protection and know that you are safe. He will guard and keep you here and more importantly, he is here to take you to eternal life with him. When that day comes there will never be any more danger, any more darkness and you will safe forever. That is the only thing that matters.
You have seen the light of God’s salvation. Fix your eyes on that light and follow it home. Amen.