We are in the middle of a series called STAND.
In the first two messages, we learned that the only way to stand at peace with God is to STAND by FAITH in God’s GRACE.
It is difficult to put faith in this unseen grace.
I collect PEZ dispensers. Even though it’s nothing more than some cheap molded plastic with insertable little cubes of stale sugar, some PEZ dispensers can be quite expensive.
Like the Moustachio’d Alphine man.
PEZ released two versions of him. The clean-faced version of him is worth very little, but the version with a mustache is worth over $1000 dollars to hardcore collectors. He is rare and not easy to find.
If you found one online that was selling for $500, a good deal for that rare piece, I might not believe you till I saw the deal myself.
Even if I did see it, I’d probably look into whoever was running the ad. If the seller didn’t have any reviews on Google, I might not believe the seller.
But if the seller had their own shop and a link to hundreds of outstanding reviews calling him the Prince of PEZ…
I’m all in.
Faith in something you can’t see is validated by a voice of authority telling you about that something you cannot see.
How powerful is the voice behind the invisible truth of GRACE?
Today we’ll l0ok into the authority of God’s voice and learn to STAND on God’s Word. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. A Story about Standing on God’s Word
In Daniel 3, a man named Nebuchadnezzar is King of Babylon. Recently, he had conquered many nations, established an incredible empire, and set up a powerful government.
But taking over the world had gotten a bit boring, so…
King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue. It was ninety feet tall and nine feet wide. (Daniel 3:1)
It’s about 8 stories high.
It’d be like three of our church building stacked on top of each other.
That’s a lot of gold material.
King Nebuchadnezzar sent word to assemble…all of the rulers of the provinces to come to the dedication of the statue that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up. (v.2)
Since Nebuchadnezzar was a fancy king.
I’m sure it was a fancy party.
Fancy ballroom gowns.
Fancy red carpet to walk in upon.
Fancy music played by the fancy royal orchestra.
Fancy little hot dogs on the multicolored toothpicks.
(Sorry, that’s about as fancy as my imagination gets…)
In the middle of this grand party with all kinds of important people present, King Nebuchadnezzar unveils the purpose of the statue:
“To you peoples, nations, and languages, this command is given: When you hear the sound of …. all kinds of musical instruments, you will fall down and worship the gold statue that King Nebuchadnezzar set up. (v.4-5)
Not only has Nebuchadnezzar created a violent army.
Not only has your King created an empire.
Not only has he created an impressive government.
Not only has he created this fancy party.
But King Nebuchadnezzar…
Has created a god.
Making Nebuchadnezzar a Creator of gods…
If you will.
When you hear the music...
Bow down and worship the god Nebuchadnezzar created for you.
Revel in it.
Find peace from it.
And one more thing.
If for whatever reason you choose not to fall down and worship the statue…>
You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace.” (v.6)
Your flesh will melt.
You’ll die a painful death.
Let’s test the system.
Immediately, the orchestra played, music filled the air, sweat poured own people’s faces…
Less because they believed that Nebuchadnezzar’s art project was an actual god.
More because they didn’t wanna die….
Everyone fell down…
As part of building his empire, Nebuchadnezzar had taken many individuals captive from the countries that he conquered. This included the nation of Israel. In Babylon, most of them served in lower class, peasant-level jobs to improve the lives of upper-class Babylonians.
But the more capable-looking young men were taken under Nebuchadnezzar’s wing. They were fed, taught, and trained to be high-level advisors in the Babylonian kingdom.
This included three young men named Shadrak, Meshak, and Abenego.
These young teenagers had been trained to fight like Babylonians.
They had been trained to speak like Babylonians.
They had been trained to govern like Babylonians.
And they had done such a good job, they were given high-up positions in the kingdom.
One thing they weren’t trained to do?
Worship Nebuchadnezzar’s art project “god”.
The others took great pleasure telling on them: “Your Majesty, may you live forever!... These men do not pay attention to you, Your Majesty. They do not serve your gods, and they do not worship the gold statue that you set up.” (v.9-12)
Nebuchadnezzar was angry.
This was a slap in his face…
And a slap in the golden face of the statue that he had set up.
He brought the three Israelites into his palace.
Is it true you didn’t bow?
Did you just miss the music?
Were you checking to see if others were bowing?
Maybe you have some arthritis in your knee?
Tell you what.
Don’t let anyone tell you that I’m not merciful.
I forgive you.
As long as you, bow down and worship the golden image…
“You will immediately be thrown into the blazing fiery furnace. What god will be able to save you from my hands?” (v.15)
The three men looked at one another.
They had heard the king’s words.
They knew he was serious.
They also remembered someone else’s words.
Words they had been taught way back in Hebrew school.
Words written on ancient, treasured scrolls:
The LORD said, “You shall have no other gods beside me. You shall not make any carved image for yourself or a likeness of anything in heaven above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. Do not bow down to them or be subservient to them, for I the Lord your God am…God.” (v.3-5)
The men nodded at one another.
Meshach and Abednego put their hands on Shadrach’s shoulders.
Shadrach took a deep breath and spoke:
“We have no need to answer you about this matter. Since our God, whom we serve, does exist, he is able to save us from the blazing fiery furnace. So, he may save us from your hand, Your Majesty. But if he does not, you should know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the golden statue that you set up.” (v.17-18)
As hot as that fiery furnace was…
It was nowhere near as hot as Nebuchadnezzar’s temper.
How dare you!
Get out of my sight!
You think you can defy me!
Guards take them!
Heat the furnace seven times hotter than usual!
Do it quickly. I can’t wait to watch these men burn.
And the crews worked quickly.
The soldiers marched them towards the furnace.
While the furnace workers added fuel to the flame.
As Nebuchadnezzar took his seat to watch ‘the action.’
The soldiers tossed Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego into the fire.
Because the situation had been so tense, the furnace workers had moved too quickly and missed important safety protocols. This resulted in a large heat blast exiting the furnace and killing the soldiers that threw the three captives into the fire.
The king noticed.
But he didn’t care.
He just wanted everyone to know that anyone who crossed him would fa….
Wait a second.
Didn’t I order three men thrown into the fire?
He said, “Look! I see four men, who are untied and walking around in the middle of the fire, unharmed. What is more, the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (v.26)
In the middle of the fire.
Where not even oxygen could survive.
Stood four men.
And an angel of the LIVING God.
The King rubbed his eyes.
He ordered the men to come out of the furnace.
When they were removed from the heat, the king and the officials examined them.
Their hair wasn’t singed.
Their clothes weren’t burned.
Their bodies didn’t even smell like smoke.
Nebuchadnezzar was humbled.
Nebuchadnezzar hadn’t had the final say.
II. Standing on God’s Word
This is an amazing story of standing on God’s Word.
These men refused to listen to the king’s words.
Even if it cost them their lives.
In a world where we get nervous that standing on God’s Word might cost us a Facebook friend, how do we get fiery furnace level faith?
Remember a few key truths:
(1) HUMAN words come with HUMAN authority
Nebuchadnezzar really had a complex, didn’t he?
The Bible tries to draw that out in the opening verses of this story.
There’s a phrase that the author includes that dominates the initial paragraphs about the golden statue God.
“He set it up.”
It’s in verse 1.
It’s in verse 2.
It’s in verse 3.
It’s in verse 5 and verse 7.
The point is very clear.
This thing had zero authority.
In fact, it wouldn’t have even existed without Nebuchadnezzar.
This gave Nebuchadnezzar a “creator” complex.
Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar had forgotten that…
He too was created.
He too was born.
He too sat around in little Babylonian diapers.
He too needed to be taught to walk.
He too needed to be taught to talk.
He too needed someone to wipe his chin when he spit out his Babylonian broccoli soup.
Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a Creator.
He was created
By the Creator.
There was always a BEING way more powerful than him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego hadn’t forgotten that.
They knew the worst that the King could do is throw them in fire for about 30 seconds.
He could save his creation from the fire.
Or recreate them forever, perfectly in heaven.
Don’t forget that.
The guy who intimidates you on social media? Just a human.
The coworker who ridicules you for following God? Just a human.
The friend who tempts you to break God’s Word? Just a human too.
The judgmental words of your ex? Just human words too.
Their authority ends on the timeline.
They have no power into eternity.
(2) GOD’S word comes with GOD’S authority
Do you know the science of fire?
Fire is the result of applying enough heat to a fuel source, when you've got a whole lot of oxygen around. As the atoms in the fuel heat up, they begin to vibrate until they break free of the bonds holding them together and are released as volatile gases. These gases react with oxygen in the surrounding atmosphere. (Science.org/au)
At 118 degrees, human skin can sustain first-degree burns.
At 131 degrees, a second-degree burn injury can occur.
At 162 degrees, human skin is destroyed.
Humans have little to no authority over these atoms at the moment of ignition.
Let alone thrown into the middle of seven-times-hotter-than-normal fire.
But not God.
God has authority.
Authority to the burnable atoms of human skin from the combustible atoms of fire.
Of course, he does!
God invented fire on the fourth day of the world when he caused the greatest ball of fire in the universe to explode into existence.
We call it the sun.
Theologically this means that God has the final say.
If he calls something sin.
It is sin.
It doesn’t matter what the king of Babylon says.
It doesn’t matter what the laws of the Babylonians say.
It doesn’t matter what the Babylonian king threatens.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Twitter says.
It doesn’t matter what Facebook says.
It doesn’t matter what MeWe says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what Fox News says.
It doesn’t matter what CNN says.
It doesn’t matter what the Home Shopping Network says.
It matters what God says.
It doesn’t matter what your coworkers say.
It doesn’t matter what your friends say.
It doesn’t matter what your family says.
It doesn’t even matter what your pastor says…
Ultimately, it only matters what God says.
Because only God has ultimate authority.
If you are looking for answer on any issue.
Look at his Word.
He has ultimate authority.
(3) God’s Word SAVES
After the failed furnace execution, Nebuchadnezzar finally gets it right. He says this,
Blessed be the God of Shadrak, Meshak, and Abednego, who sent his angel and saved his servants… (v.28)
God is the one who orchestrated the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the miracle.
God is the only one who could orchestrate the saving miracle.
And he is the only one who orchestrated your saving miracle too.
His Word sent Jesus to earth.
His Word defied the devil.
His Word condemned Jesus.
His Word declared you innocent.
His Word brought himself back to life.
His Word is speaking to you right now:
“Your salvation is in Jesus.”
“You are forgiven.”
“You are my child.”
“You are mine.”
“Come back to me and live.”
God’s Word saves.
No other book.
No other pamphlet.
No other authority has the power of God’s Word.
God’s Word contains the message of Jesus who saved us.
God’s Word strengthens our faith in the message of Jesus.
God’s Word saves.
III. What Now?
Stand on God’s Word
Because human words have only human authority.
God’s Word has God’s authority.
And God’s Word saves.
When we’re standing on God’s Word.
It might save more than just you.
Because do you know what happens in the next chapter of Daniel?
The one who thought he could create a god.
The one who thought he was a god.
The one who learned he was not even remotely a god.
Look at what he says in Daniel 4:2-3
It seemed good to me to declare the signs and wonders that the Most High God did for me. How great are his signs! How mighty are his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and his dominion extends from generation to generation.
The guy’s a believer.
The guy is most likely in heaven.
The three men who STOOD on God’s Word.
Do the same.
Stand on God’s Word.
Who knows whom God might save through you?
We are in the middle of a series called STAND. Last week, we began by talking about what you need to do to be able to STAND with God on your side.
The key truth we learned is that God stands by the actually INNOCENT. As sinners, if we want to be INNOCENT before God, you can’t stand before God on your WORKS. Because if you submit your “good” works as evidence, you also must submit your bad works.
It’s like a State Inspection. Your emissions may be under the limit. Your steering wheel may move smoothly. The exterior of the car might be shiny and red with a bright, Lightning McQueen style racing stripe. You might even have a nice, completely vacuumed, no cheerios on the carpet, interior.
But if you don’t have a tire on your passenger side rear wheel, you won’t pass the inspection.
If you submit your WORKS to God for inspection, he will inspect every single work you have ever done.
If he finds one sinful work…
…when he finds that sinful work,
…you will fail inspection.
Thankfully, God offers an alternative option for innocence.
Jesus died for you.
You are forgiven.
You pass inspection because of him.
When you stand in that truth of God’s grace, you are declared innocent.
Of course, that’s tough to do
You can’t see God’s grace.
As I look at my life, I only see my failures.
Failures as a son.
Failures as a husband.
Failures as a father.
Failures as a pastor.
Maybe you can relate.
How do we stay standing in grace when all we see is our own sinful yuck?
Today we’re discovering the answer as we dig into the Scriptural importance of faith. Before we do, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. To Those Who No Longer Stand
We are looking at a Biblical case study on faith. The text is from Romans 11. The subject in the case study is the nation of Israel.
The nation of Israel was God’s people. In the Old Testament time, God knew he needed to send a Savior for the world. He also knew that the Savior needed to both:
(1) become human – meaning he’d have to come from a human family,
(2) have prophecies written about him – so that people could look back at those prophecies to confidently identify the Savior.
God chose to entrust these blessings to a man named Israel.
He gave Israel a family.
Israel’s family had twelve sons.
Those sons would come to have their own families.
Eventually Israel’s family grew so large that calling it a family seemed unfair.
It became a nation.
But God’s promises given remained with that nation.
From that nation would come a Savior.
Therefore, God would protect that nation so that the nation would survive, and God’s promise would remain alive.
Even if God had to do it through miraculous means.
He caused a sea of water to split into two walls so that Israel can escape its former captors.
He spoke to them from the top of a smoky, shaking, thundering mountain and gave them Ten Commandments to govern their interactions with each other.
He took thick, stone walls of the impenetrable fortress of Jericho and tumbled them to the ground that Israel might have land for their nation.
He empowered them to build a beautiful temple of gold, silver, jasper, acacia wood in order to spend time with God and remember his promises.
He sent them prophet after prophet painstakingly reminding them of God’s promises and giving them clues of the birth of the Savior.
All of this led up to Jesus.
Jesus fit the prophecies given to Israel.
Jesus was born in Israel.
Jesus was a part of Israel’s family.
Jesus did miracles for Israel.
And how did the nation of Israel respond?
They killed him.
On a cross.
At the time of the book of Romans, the good news of the Savior had gone beyond the borders of Israel to people that are not the nation of Israel.
In chapter 11, Paul asks an important, theological question:
“So I ask, ‘Did (the people of Israel) stumble in order to fall permanently?’ ” (11:11)
They really did wrong.
They been entrusted with the promises of God and when that promise came?
They murdered him.
When they looked at themselves now, they no longer saw God’s people…
But God’s murderers.
Is an innocent verdict impossible for them?
“Absolutely not! Rather, by their trespass, salvation came to the Gentiles to make the Israelites jealous.” (11:12)
I think of 3rd grade puppy love. If you’re a boy and you have a crush on the girl, what do you do in order to make her like you?
You throw spitballs at her.
Because nothing says, “Be mine forever,” like a wad of spit-soaked paper.
But if she doesn’t seem interested. Instead, she’s flirting with Aaron Samuels, the jock of the playground. Then, you need to make her jealous.
By spitting spitballs at another girl.
Hopefully she sees me.
She misses the wads of romance.
She comes back to flirting with me.
God loved the people of Israel.
The people of Israel rejected him, so God gave the message of the Savior to the other nations.
Principally, because he loved those other nations.
Additionally, to make Israel jealous and draw them back into his grace.
This leads to a slightly complex truth:
God gives grace to the seemingly UNDESERVING so that the “seemingly” DESERVING realize they’re UNDESERVING and yearn for his GRACE.
I remember participating in prison ministry while I was at the Seminary. I went into a state penitentiary with a member of the local church who was going to press the play button on the tape recorder to cue the music for Amazing Grace. (Do you remember tape players? In order to run such a task you needed to be efficient in pushing the play button.)
There was a side room where we held worship. After we had set up and nodded to the guards, they ushered in about 20 guys.
All in orange jumpsuits.
It was hard not to wonder:
I wonder what they did.
But I preached the sermon.
On forgiveness and grace.
As I preached, I got more “Amens” than I have in the rest of my preaching combined.
And they sang Amazing Grace with gusto and excitement.
And they shook our hands vigorously afterwards saying, “Thank you so much for this teaching of grace.”
I don’t know if they were the real audience that day.
As we drove home, the local church volunteer said to me,
“I envy those guys.
“They get grace.
“When I look at my life, I see blessings, church stuff, and volunteer opportunities where I push the button. Sometimes, I think ‘I’m pretty good,’ and it devalues the power grace.
But when these guys look around, they see constant reminders of their sin. Yet…they cling to grace.
“Pastor, that’s real faith.”
He was right.
The volunteer and I found a lot of our confidence in the things we saw ourselves doing.
All their confidence was in God’s invisible grace.
But is this faith real?
Again, look at Israel:
“Now if their trespass meant riches for the world, and their failure meant riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fullness mean!” (v.12)
Think about it:
If God’s grace is for the non-Jew who never read the Old Testament, never sang a Psalm, never set foot in the temple, and never memorized even one of the Ten Commandments…
Then, it’s also for the Jew who did all those things and still rejected God’s promise.
If God’s grace is for the Jew who had all God’s promises, rejected all his promises, and even murdered God’s own son…
Then, God’s grace is for you.
If you’ve FALLEN out of grace, belief in JESUS means you STAND in grace again.
No matter what you’ve done.
God’s grace is big enough.
That’s where we look.
Not over here at the big WRONGS we’ve done.
But over here at the BIG GRACE Jesus won.
II. To Those Who Do Stand by Faith
But what about those us who do believe in Jesus?
Who haven’t fallen away.
Who have done a really excellent job of never falling away…
The next section speaks to believers:
“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you—a wild olive branch—were grafted in among them and share in the rich sap from the root of the olive tree, do not boast that you are better than the branches.” (v.17-18)
Grafting is a technique where a section of a stem with some leaf buds is attached to the stock of an existing tree. The wild shoot is cut in a way that it fits into a specific spot on the existing plant so that the transport vessels of both pieces line up. In this way, the grafted piece can continue to grow as it is fed nutrients and water by the stock plant.
In this illustration, Israel is a tree.
It was attached to the root of God’s grace.
But some rejected the Savior and were broken off.
Then, people who were not from the nation of Israel were then grated into their place.
They are a part of the tree.
Every much a part of God’s family.
But a weird phenomenon can happen with believers in God’s grace.
They can become convinced that it’s less about God’s grace.
…And more about their being AWESOME.
I have been attending worship over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so faithful.
I stayed at home over the pandemic. God wants me here ‘cause I’m so caring.
I voted this way in the election. God wants me here because I voted right.
Notice the “because.”
It’s no longer “Because I stand in Jesus’ grace.”
I believe I stand with God…because why wouldn’t God want to stand with me?
BOASTING can lead to faith in SELF.
I broke off a tree branch earlier this week.
I broke it off, because it was a branch that looked especially nice.
I thought it was a blessing to the tree.
But since I’ve broken it off, do you know what’s happened?
But the branch?
Remember that you are not supporting the root, but the root is supporting you. (v.18)
You need Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t need you.
You need grace.
Grace doesn’t need you to be grace.
“You will say: ‘Branches were broken off so that I am grafted in.’ That is true—but remember that they were broken off because of unbelief…Do not be conceited but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you.” (V.19-21)
The reason God removed the Jewish believers wasn’t because his grace wasn’t enough.
It’s because they didn’t believe his grace was enough.
They severed the connection.
God broke them off.
God says be careful.
Because it’s easy to think grace isn’t enough.
It’s easy to believe there must be something to DO for yourself.
And when you think grace is ABOUT you and yourself.
It isn’t long before your faith is IN yourself
And faith in yourself instead of Jesus goes by another name.
Have you heard this?
If your faith is in YOURSELF, you will be CUT OFF.
Have you ever considered the lifespan of a cross?
At some point the cross was a tree. Alive and blooming. Green and vibrant.
It got cut down.
Cut from the by the local Roman cross building artisan.
Chopped into two large pieces.
Fastened together by some rope.
Large enough for three hefty nails to splinter its fibers.
A dead thing used for death.
With bloody remnants of past deaths all over it.
This dead wood death device truly encompasses what a sinful person apart from grace is.
And that’s where Jesus died.
He placed himself in our position.
He died with our sins of deathly boasting on his bad.
He died as a spiritually dead branch cut off from God’s family tree.
Three days later.
Three days later he did something that no other dead branch had ever done.
He came to life.
Because the Branch lives.
You live as his Branch.
“And you remain in place by faith.”
HE’s the trunk.
He holds you up.
He gives you nourishment, support, life, strength, and forgiveness.
By faith in Jesus, you STAND.
III. What Now?
So how do we keep our faith strong in Jesus? Two ideas from this Scripture: Take note of God’s kindness and his severity: severity on those who have fallen, but God’s kindness on you—if you remain in his kindness; otherwise, you also will be cut off. (v.22)
(1) Note God’s Sternness
Sometimes Sunday School lessons can be hard to tell.
I was reading to Daniela one of the Bible story books that we’ve received. (If you’re a pastor, you get a lot of Bible story books. It’s a good thing.)
I decided to read the story of Noah’s ark.
I get to do all of my animal noises.
But as I was reading this book, I realized something.
Part of the story was missing.
The part where God decided to destroy the hundreds of thousands of people who had hated God and rejected his warnings for 40 years, so eventually God drowned them.
How many times you seen that in a kids’ story on Noah’s ark?
It’s tough to talk about. I get it.
But what is God telling us here.
The hard parts of the Bible.
The God’s judgment parts of the Bible.
We shouldn’t avoid those.
We need to hear them.
They are deep, cutting reminders of what happens when you put faith in yourself.
Something humans are prone to do.
God gives us these warnings as a blessing to us.
Because he doesn’t want us to drown in a universal flood.
He wants us to live eternally with him.
Don’t skip those parts in your Bible readings.
Don’t ignore those parts with your kids.
Don’t go get coffee during those parts of the sermon.
Take note of God’s sternness. And then…
(2) Take Note of God’s Kindness
Because when you come to God in repentance.
When we come to God recognize our sinfulness.
When we come to God in our deadness…
God grants life.
He shows us how he has been gracious to others through the Gospel.
He grafts us back into that very Gospel.
We are nourished in grace again.’
When you don’t see God’s grace out the world.
When you just see a bunch of jerks out in the world.
Here is where you see God’s grace and gain confidence to stand.
Like the woman from Mark 7.
Her daughter was demon possessed.
She repeatedly hurt herself.
She wasn’t in her right mind.
She seemed constantly lost.
Watching your daughter lose herself to her demons…
Can you imagine the pain in this mom’s heart?
She had heard of Jesus.
But Jesus was Jewish.
Jesus was a leader in the Jewish community.
The Jewish community wasn’t her community.
She didn’t have their religion.
She had never been in the temple.
She didn’t share the blood of Abraham.
She didn’t look like Israel.
She didn’t belong there.
I’m sure the looks of others made her feel that way.
There was something about this Jesus.
She found Jesus, threw herself on the ground and immediately began to cry out,
“Lord! Jesus! Help! Help me! Help my daughter!”
Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first.
“I was promised to the children of Israel.”
“It isn’t right take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27)
The woman heard him.
She processed his illustration.
“Lord, their little dogs under the table…
They get to eat the crumbs.
Give me a crumb of your power. My daughter will be saved.”
“Because of this statement, go! The demon has gone out of your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)
She went home.
And the demon had gone out of her daughter.
This is the power of Jesus.
And stand by faith in grace. Amen.
This is always a stressful Sunday to preach.
Every four years America is blessed to be able to vote.
Every four years America is blessed to be able to elect a president.
And every four years, there is a Sunday service a few days beforehand.
And this year…
Unless Facebook is deceiving me…
It appears that people are expecting me to preach one of two sermon themes today:
If you don’t vote for Trump, you don’t stand with God.
If you don’t vote for Biden, you don’t stand with God.
Try as I might…
I couldn’t find a Biblical text to support either one of those sermon themes…
Rather than tell you how to vote to stand with God.
Scripture asks a much more pertinent question.
How do you know God stands with YOU?
Friends, this is the sermon you need to hear today. Before we, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Standing Before God
The Scripture that describes how to stand with God on your side comes from Romans 5:1
“Having been justified…we have peace with God.”
The word used for “peace” here is the word commonly used to describe peace between warring nations. In this event, the leadership gets together and signs a treaty that says:
We are no longer fighting.
I will no longer try to stab you with my sword.
I will no longer try to shoot you with my musket.
I will no longer stand against you.
Because I will now stand with you.
Now I am on your side.
Is there anything better than the peace-filled pledge of the Creator?
The One who controls volcanos? On our side.
The One who controls 55mph winds? On our side.
The One who knows the cure for COVID? On our side.
So how do we get this peace accord?
According to this text, if you’d like peace with God you only need to do one thing, that is, to simply be “justified.”
Have you seen this word before?
This is a courtroom term. It’s a word used by judges to announce the verdict of a case.
If the person is guilty, the judge slams his gavel and declares that person “guilty” or “condemned.”
If the defendant is not guilty, the judge slams his gavel and declares that person “not guilty” or “justified.”
In this scenario, God is the judge.
If you can prove your innocence to him, he will join your side.
Do you have enough emails documenting your kindness to coworkers?
Or a couple you might need to delete?
Do you have enough photos on Instagram properly documenting how great of a mother you are?
Or do you think you’ll have to doctor up the fake smiles just a bit more?
Do you know enough people who can support your claim that you are “innocent?”
Or are you gonna need to offer a few bribes? Maybe even to your wife?
One of the challenges with my newfound fatherhood is trying to get my daughter to take her medicine. In the first days of having her with us, she refused to take it.
I haven’t tasted it. But based on the smell (a mixture of dirt and banana peel), I can understand why.
So, we hide it.
We put it in applesauce.
We put it in yogurt.
We put it in her favorite morning drink, hot chocolate.
We’d take a spoonful of delicious Colombian hot chocolate.
Move the spoon under the table.
Carefully sneak in one drop of medicine,
Bring the spoon above the table confidently
Put it into her mouth and…
She’d spit it out.
This is a microcosm of how people approach God.
You want an innocent lifestyle God?
Just a second.
I’ve been greedy lately. But if I mix in some money to charity, maybe God won’t notice.
I lost it on my kids. But if I take them to enough extracurriculars, I’m sure that it’ll be a wash.
I spent all night watching porn. But if I do the dishes, wash the car, and bring my wife some flowers, my life will still taste good.
Here you go?
God can taste the deception.
An ounce of sin…
…is that repulsive to him.
He will see all your sin.
If you stand in YOUR WORKS before God, you stand in GUILT.
Because you’ll have to stand in all your works.
The good and the bad.
The time you listened to your parents and did your homework and the time you didn’t listen and texting with your friends about what losers your parents are.
The time you thanked your coworker for her work and the time you told everyone that her work was your work.
The time you treated your husband to a steak dinner and the time you ignored his call ‘cause you were flirting with the trainer.
The time you called your wife “beautiful” and the time you called her a few other unrepeatable names.
The time you worshiped three times on a weekend and the time you got sick cause of overdrinking three times in a weekend.
And by the way…
Those good things?
Isaiah 64:6 says this, “All your righteous acts are as filthy rags.”
That’s a nice way to put it.
The reality is that Hebrew phrase refers to those filthy rags as “rags filled with bodily fluids.”
Gross, dirty, stinky, “Mom, can you get this one?” disgusting diapers.
That’s how God views the “good” things you do.
Because even the best human “good” things are tainted with human selfishness.
Think about it.
If you try to make up for your sins, by doing things in order to save your skin...
Making that work selfish.
Another dirty diaper for you to stand in.
Stop standing in your works.
Because if you do, you stand in GUILT.
And if you stand in GUILT…
…you don’t STAND.
Have you ever tried to push over a tree?
I mean a mature tree. Not a freshly planted one.
A tree with a solid trunk.
A tree with roots that move deeply into the ground.
A tree that’s been standing for 150 plus years.
Push as you might.
With your hands.
With your arm.
With your back.
With a running start.
You can’t get a tree like that to budge.
A few days ago Hurricane Zeta ran through Montgomery, Alabama.
The 50-plus mph winds toppled mature oak trees throughout the city.
Honestly, I don’t think God broke a sweat.
Look at the damage.
If God does that to an inanimate, amoral object?
What do you think he’ll do to animate, moral beings like you?
Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
If you try to stand in your works…
You will fall.
Out of favor with God.
Out of eternity with God.
II. Standing by Grace
If we can’t stand on works.
Is it even possible to stand?
I bet that’s what the guy from Matthew 9 thought.
He had been paralyzed his entire life.
There wasn’t any kind of work he could do to fix that.
No amount of physical therapy.
No amount of organic drug taking.
No amount of a positive outlook…
Could fix the broken nerve endings in his lower back.
He couldn’t do anything to stand.
His friends picked him up.
They brought him to a crowded house.
They scaled a wall.
They passed his cot up the wall.
They cut a hole in the roof.
They attached ropes to his cot.
They lowered him down.
To the feet of Jesus.
And there he lay.
Surrounded by judgy religious people
Looking up at the perfect Son of God.
He might have thought:
“Hi Jesus. Hear me out. Here are some reasons you should help me.”
But he didn’t get any of those out.
Jesus simply said, ““Get up. Take your stretcher. Go home.” (Matthew 9:6)
The man didn’t have to list his credentials.
He didn’t have to promise allegiance to Jesus.
He didn’t have to fork over the couple of dollars he had begged for earlier that day.
He simply stood.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (v.1)
Because here’s what Jesus did for you….
He stood in the eternal halls of heaven.
He stood and saw your lack of innocence.
He saw that you couldn’t stand and decided to do something about it.
He was born and needed to learn how to stand.
He stood in the temple proclaiming that people needed saving.
He stood in the streets proclaiming that he was that Savior.
He stood in a garden, surrounded by angry, blood-thirsty men.
He stood on trial surrounded by angrier, blood-thirstier men.
He stood and was condemned to die on a cross.
He stood on a little tiny wooden wedged that both of his feet had been positioned upon while a nail was driven through them both.
He stood on a hill of death as the Father gave him his verdict: GUILTY.
Until he couldn’t.
They took his dead body and laid it in the grave, never to stand again.
Three days later, Jesus stood on his two feet again.
Three days later, Jesus stood alive.
Three days later, Jesus stood victorious
TRUTH: Because of JESUS, you will STAND before God as INNOCENT.
Listen to that good news again.
Because of Jesus, you stand not guilty.
Because of Jesus, you stand at peace.
Because of Jesus, you stand forgiven.
But it’s more than that…
Through Jesus we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand. (v.2)
In the back of church, there is a keypad. It is left over from the days of having Precious Lambs in this building. It’s still useful today though. If someone needs to get into church and I am not at church to let them in, I can simply text them a code. They enter the code and get in.
Sometimes we view grace like a keycode.
“God graciously gave us this keycode.”
Now all we have to do is enter the right combination of good deeds and good works and we will obtain access into God’s kingdom.
Should we start at 11111?
But the reality is that grace isn’t a keycode of which you have to discover the combination.
Grace means the door is unlocked.
God entered the code.
He grabs us by the hand.
He brings us in.
It’s all about God.
Because of Jesus, we NOW stand in GRACE.
You don’t need to fret.
You don’t need to worry.
You don’t need to develop ways to get on God’s good side.
You stand in grace.
And grace is all about God.
And God is all you need.
People usually understand grace as like a seesaw:
On the one side, is God’s work:
It’s represented by a rhinoceros, wearing a backpack full of bowling balls and playing a piano.
On the other side of the seesaw is our work:
We need to do.
Actually, that’s inaccurate.
We need to remove the flea.
On our side, is nothing. Absolutely nothing.
On God’s side, is a rhinoceros, wearing a backpack full of bowling balls while playing the piano…and a flea, because we removed the flea from our side.
Grace is all about God.
Therefore, God’s grace is all you need.
III. What Now?
(1) Stay Standing in Grace
It’s like a game of Sumo wrestling. Do you know the rules?
1. Wear a big diaper.
2. Don’t get pushed out of the circle.
The devil would love nothing more than to push you out of grace.
The devil pushes you to sin.
With social media.
With your emotions.
Till you break.
But he hasn’t pushed you out of grace yet.
The real trick comes next. He says, “Jesus died for you and you responded by listening to me? That was awful. Stupid. And..honestly, it doesn’t seem like grace would be enough anymore. You’ll probably have to do something to get back into God’s grace.”
By trying to something to get back into God’s grace.
We step out of God’s grace.
Don’t let him trick you.
You don’t need to DO something to earn God’s grace.
Not even if you’ve previously done wrong.
God’s grace is enough.
(2) Show Grace
Back to the story of the paralyzed man.
Before Jesus healed him, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven.”
This upset the religious leaders who were there.
How could you claim to do that?
This guy is probably a miserable sinner.
He doesn’t do religious stuff like us.
How dare you make such an assertion.
Who do you think you are?
Jesus healed the man of paralysis.
Something only God can do.
Jesus is God and in him we have grace.
Jesus is God and in others have grace.
To question grace is to question Jesus’ power!
Pastor, God forgives. But not those kind of people.
It’s ok to be gracious, but you gotta be firm too.
Is that person really the kind of person God wants in our church?
Because if it wasn’t.
He wouldn’t want YOU either.
God has given us grace.
Give grace to others.
Forgive that grudge.
Be kind with your spouse even when they aren’t kind to you.
Be gentle with your kids even during the 18th time you’ve reminded them to turn off the iPad.
Because you stand in grace.
And they stay in grace too.
One more verse tied to this thought.
We rejoice confidently based on our hope for the glory of God. (Romans 5:2b)
This is important.
Because you might be a bit on edge.
You might be wondering what will happen with all the elections.
You might be nervous about what the next years will bring.
You might be frightened about when COVID might end.
I can’t tell you with any kind of certainty what will happen on Tuesday.
But I can tell you with 100% certainty what will happen in eternity.
You and I will be in heaven with Jesus.
Standing in grace.
Standing with Jesus.
We’ve been looking at Psalms for the past seven weeks. I hope one thing you have learned in this series is that the Psalms are versatile. There is a Psalm that fits very succinctly and successfully into whatever your life struggle is.
Whether you need HOPE…
...When it Seems like No One can help.
…Or When the world is falling apart.
…Or When You Can’t Escape Negativity…
…Or When You Can’t Figure out number three across on your daily crossword puzzle.
(OK. That last one wasn’t part of our series, but still…the Psalms would offer hope in that situation. See: A five letter word for the Savior of the world.)
But what happens when you no longer need hope? What do you do then?
Psalm 30 has the answer for us. Before we begin dissecting the text, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. Exalt the One Who Exalted You
Psalm 30 is written by a guy named David. He was perhaps the greatest Biblical musician of all time.
Greater than Chris Tomlin.
Greater than Amy Grant.
Greater than whoever wrote “Zacchaeus was a wee little man.”
In fact, he’s the first guy to author more than one song that is preserved in the Bible. (In the Bible there are songs recorded by “artists” prior to David. One was written by Moses and his sister Miriam. Another song by Moses and his assistant Joshua. One more song was written by a lady named Deborah and a guy named Baruch. But since it’s their only song, you might call them a one-hit wonder.)
David, on the other hand, wrote 73 different Psalms. Since there are only 150 Psalms, that means we he was only 2 Psalms short of writing fifty percent of all the Psalms.
Psalm 30 is a Psalm written late in David’s life. He’s had a lot of practice and gotten very adept at lyrical word play. Check out verse 1:
I will exalt you, LORD, for you lifted me out of depths. (v.1)
It’s perhaps a bit difficult in English, but do you see the word play?
The subject and objects are reversed,
But the verbal idea remains the same:
I will lift up the Lord,
Because the Lord lifted me up.
Lifting God up is exactly what David does. Check out verses 1-3 and count up the number of times that David refers to God as doing a benevolent action:
You lifted me out of depths.
Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
You spared me from going down to the pit. (v.1-3)
Did you count?
God is the doer of four benevolent actions.
He lifted David out of the depths.
He healed David.
He brought David up from the realm of the dead.
He spared David from going to the pit.
Granted, David is listed as doing one of the actions.
But that one action is to call on God to help him.
100% of David’s praise EXALTS God.
What percentage is it in your life?
For example, if you don’t have COVID how do you talk about it with others?
I follow all the rules.
I wear a mask when I sleep.
I stay quarantined.
I do everything online.
I don’t know what everyone else’s problem is, but I figured out the secret to staying COVID free.
You’ll notice that was also five verses.
And…ZERO mentions of God.
Or maybe if you’d done well economically during COVID.
I brainstormed new ideas for my business.
I thought creatively.
I worked hard.
I had a great savings account.
I kept my family financially stable.
Five more verses…
…and God is nowhere to be found.
If your language makes it UNCLEAR who gave you healing,
Your language isn’t CLEAR enough.
This is especially true in the area of salvation.
There is nothing that is MORE obviously God’s doing than our salvation.
We have literally earned nothing but hell with our sins.
Zero amount of good works can save us.
We can’t even believe in Jesus’ saving power with the Holy Spirit working faith in our hearts.
If we give the impression it’s about what we do, then…
What does that teach others?
I had this friend on Facebook. He liked to write his testimonies about how God had worked in his life. One of his testimonies struck me:
“Dude man, I totally surrendered to God. I got on my knees. I called out at the top of my lungs. I meant it. I really meant it. And then I made it my goal to always follow him like no one else had ever followed him. I would be God’s warrior. I promised God that. And I’ve been fighting for him ever since. Man…That’s how I got saved.”
You mean that’s how you saved yourself.
Tell me -- Why did you need God again?
When it’s CLEAR God’s brought healing, God calls us to CLEARLY give HIM praise.
This isn’t difficult.
There are plenty of action verbs that accurately describe what God did for us!
He lived for us.
He died innocently in our place.
He rose triumphantly.
He called you in the Gospel
He washed you in his baptism.
He gives you his body and blood in communion.
He planted faith in your heart.
He caused it to grow.
He strengthened it.
He helps it grow.
He caused it to bloom.
And led you to share the Gospel with others.
He plants faith in their hearts.
He strengthens that faith. “
He helps that faith grow.
He causes it to bloom…
You get the point.
This is ALL about God.
Therefore, God deserves ALL the praise.
Our response when God brings healing is to give ALL praise to him!
II. The Praise Pro’s Praise Pointers
So how do we do that?
David is a praise pro.
Maybe we can get a few praise pointers from him.
This section is called “The Praise Pro’s Praise Pointers”
(1) Admit Your Failures
In 1 Chronicles 21, David has been king in Israel for decades. And things have been going very well.
His army had victory after victory.
His enemies had retreated.
The economy was booming.
The people were happy.
I’m a pretty sweet king.
I think people should know how sweet I am.
Let’s take a census of all the fighting men in Israel so that everyone will know I have the biggest army in the world.
And we can write it down for people to know how big an army I had and that I am probably the greatest king in history.
To be fair, David’s advisor advised against this:
Didn’t GOD do all this?
Why are YOU so concerned with exalting YOURSELF?
The king overruled him.
The command was carried out.
This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:7)
The punishment was awful.
It ripped through Israel and spread way faster than COVID-19.
In three days, 70,000 people died.
It was God’s way of saying to David and all of Israel
“You didn’t make this great nation happen. I did. It was a gift. And…I can rip it just like that.”
By the time David gets around to writing Psalm 30, God has relented.
David had repented.
David had asked God for mercy.
Most importantly, God had mercifully ended the plague.
David writes about it in this Psalm. He says:
God’s anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime;
Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said, “I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me, you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face, I was dismayed. (v.6-7)
Doesn’t that seem strange?
Why would David want that recorded for all to see?
Afterall, his original goal was to make himself look great.
This account makes him look like a prideful jerk.
But David no longer cared.
Because this wasn’t about him.
This was about God’s mercy.
It’s still about God’s mercy today. Therefore, it’s important to remember this in our praise life:
Admitting our FAILURES magnifies God’s MERCY!
Because you might read this story and think that’s really mean of God to do that!
These people didn’t deserve that!
They didn’t deserve what God gave them.
They didn’t deserve MERCY.
Because David had sinned, sin deserves death.
The people were sinners, sin deserves death.
But God stopped the death, in favor of his mercy.
The more David proclaimed and let people know, “This was my fault!”
The more incredible God’s mercy that said, “I am erasing your fault.”
To think of it one more way,
If I met you for a movie and I said, “Some guy paid for my movie ticket!” You’d said, “That’s nice.”
If I met you for a movie and I said, “Also he bought me this extra large popcorn and soda,” You’d say, “That’s very nice.”
If I met you for a movie and I said, “Actually he’s gave me a ride, has been paying for my rent for the past year, paid of all my students loans, gave me a job, bought me a new wardrobes, and he even got me a NEW subscription to Disney Plus in time for The Mandalorian season 2.”
You’d say, ‘That’s amazing!”
It’s the same with God.
The more we understand our debt.
The better we understand God’s mercy.
The more others know about our debt.
The more others know about God’s mercy.
And isn’t that what we’re about?
Planting Jesus in North Raleigh?
(2) Be Public About It
In verse 8-9, David describes how he pled for his own life in the midst of this self-imposed pandemic:
To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord, I cried for mercy:
What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness? (v.8-9)
I think this is an interesting way for David to plead for his life.
God just illustrated that David didn’t need him.
But David is now pleading that God did need him.
Because if he dies from the plague, he’ll just be a pile of dirt.
And dirt doesn’t make a lot of noise.
It doesn’t know any worship songs.
If you listen quietly though you can hear…
What’s David’s point?
God, I promise I can be a lot louder than that dust.
I promise I’ll praise you with more vigor than the dust.
I promise that more people will come to know the Gospel on account me, than that dust.
Do the same.
Be public about your praise.
Be louder than the dust.
The other day Julianna took Daniela to the park.
As they were there, she struck up a conversation with some parents.
Suddenly, the conversation was interrupted by Daniela.
She wasn’t crying.
She wasn’t pouting.
She wasn’t complaining.
She was singing a song that she had just learned;
Cristo me ama, bien lo se.
Su palabra me hace ve
Que los ninos son de aquel
El es nuestro amigo fiel!
Si Cristo me ama!
Si Cristo me ama!
Si Cristo me Ama!
La biblia dice asi.
No regard for being in public.
No regard for what others might think
No regard for whether she pronounced each word correctly.
For all to hear.
(3) Dance! (And if you’re bad at dancing, Employ Unexpected Acts of Praise)
Check out verse 11. David says:
You turned my wailing into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. (v.11)
Sackcloth is a rough material.
It’s what sacks are usually made out of it.
And sacks are not usually the best type of clothing.
But wearing sackcloth was an Old Testament way of showing your sorrow.
People would put on the itchy, scratchy sackcloth to show God, “I feel so bad about my sin. Comfort doesn’t matter to me right now. Being right with you does.”
After his sin and the subsequent plague, David was in sackcloth.
But thanks to God’s mercy.
Now he had traded in his sackcloth…
For dancing shoes.
I don’t know what kind of dance David did.
Was it a Latin Salsa?
A line dance?
Or just the rubber band?
I don’t know.
That’s not the point.
The point is that David was so happy with God’s incredible grace that he couldn’t help but dance!
You might be looking at this what now and be thinking – I can’t dance!
It’s not the dancing part that’s mandatory.
Here’s the heart of this truth:
Proper praise results in UNEXPECTED displays of THANKFULNESS.
Stopping your car at an intersection and handing a $50 bill to the man on the corner.
Attending, not one, not two, but three Growth Group studies online.
An Instagram account that shifts from photos of you to declarations of praise to God.
An eerily happy disposition even during ELECTION season.
Think outside the box here.
How can you praise God in an UNEXPECTED way this week?
(4) Always Praise
Because while David ends the Psalm, he isn’t ending the praise. In fact, look at what he concludes with:
Lord my God, I will praise you forever. (v.12)
He didn’t say, “I will praise you for an hour on Sunday.”
He didn’t say, “I will praise you for a week”
He didn’t say, “I will praise you until it appears the plague is over.”
Here’s how confident David is.
Check out the introduction to the Psalm.
It says, “For the dedication of the temple.”
David didn’t dedicate the temple.
He didn’t finish construction while he was king.
He didn’t begin construction while he was king.
He didn’t even lay the foundation.
All he did was use some of his own money to buy the land that the temple would eventually be built on.
David is so confident that God will continue to show mercy.
David is confident that God will continue to show kindness.
David is confident that God will continue to be God.
That includes 2020.
That includes right now.
No matter what year it is.
No matter what month it is.
No matter what time it is.
There’s a lot of negativity right now.
One morning while I was in Colombia, I awoke early.
I made the terrible mistake of checking the news.
I thought: “I need something less negative.”
So, I did the exact opposite and opened Facebook.
More dirty politics.
I was starting to feel a bit depressed from all the negativity when Daniela woke up. I was happy to see her and excited to start the day with this beautiful ray of sunshine.
But first, she needed to take her medicine.
And the only way to get her to take her medicine is to bribe her with Spanish YouTube Kids’ songs
I sat her on my lap and pulled up the video on my phone called Cinco Patitos. Maybe you know its English counterpart:
Five little ducks went out one day.
Over the hills and far away.
Mother duck said, “Quack-quack-quack-quack.”
But only four little ducks came back.
As the song progresses, the mother duck slowly loses all five of her ducks.
As I watching this video, I saw the sadness on the cartoon mother duck’s face, and for the first time ever fashioning myself a parent, I thought to myself:
This song is horrible!
Where did all the ducklings go?
Did one of them get COVID?
Was one of them abducted?
Why didn’t the government do more to protect the duckling from disappearance?
And my mind was filled with more negativity.
Even in kids’ songs!
Negativity is everywhere.
Where do we turn to escape it?
Where do we find a place without negativity?
God’s got an answer for us. Before we look at it, a prayer: O Lord, strengthen us by the truth. Your Word is the truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see; open our ears to hear what you want us to hear; and open our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. The Place without Negativity
Check out the first verse of Psalm 84:
How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! (v.1)
That’s the adjective the writer uses here.
Not even pretty.
That’s a word reserved for the finest occasions in life.
A snow-capped mountain with a sunset backdrop.
A fine meal at a five-star restaurant.
A bride walking down the aisle.
But here the adjective is used to describe God’s dwelling place.
Does sound lovely.
And immediately leads to the question:
Where is God’s dwelling place?
Scripturally, there are a couple of different Sunday School answers that might fit under the category: “Place where God Dwells.” Let’s examine each in context to determine what the Psalmist is talking about.
This is a very common Sunday School answer and it is one hundred percent accurate. Jeremiah 23:24 says, “‘Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him?,’ declares the Lord, ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?’” This is the reason theologians call God, omnipresent. It’s a scholarly term that means, “God is everywhere.”
He’s on the shores of the Outer Banks.
He’s on the highest peaks of the Blue Ridge trail.
He’s in downtown Raleigh.
He’s on the streets of Durham.
He’s here at 1100 Newton Road.
And he’s 2,172 miles away in Bogota, Colombia.
There’s something about that answer that doesn’t make sense in this section.
Because while God is everywhere, it seems strange to refer to some places on earth as God’s dwelling.
A dwelling implies residence.
Where God puts his feet up.
Where God is cozy.
I don’t believe it’s correct to say that a strip club is God’s dwelling place.
I don’t think a meth lab is God’s stomping grounds.
It is absolutely wrong to say that the local KKK meeting is where God likes to hang out.
To be fair: God’s there.
But it’s not his dwelling place.
This leads to a second common Sunday School answer. God is in heaven (which is exactly what Psalm 115:3 says, “God is in heaven.”)
And unlike earth, heaven is absolutely, 100% guaranteed void of any negativity.
Think about that:
For example, when we returned home this week, we were able to get all the mail we had missed out on during our six-week hiatus.
Can you guess what much of that mail was?
Political attack ads.
A whole stack of them.
Taller than all seven books in the Harry Potter series.
There aren’t political attack ads in heaven.
Because there isn’t negativity.
There aren’t any COVID testing sites in heaven.
There are not any angry emojis in heaven.
There are not any angry talking heads on CNN or Fox News in heaven.
There are not any racist slurs.
Heaven is lovely because there isn’t even a smidgen of an ounce of negativity.
But I don’t know if heaven is what the Psalmist is talking about here.
Because as you read the rest of the Psalm it becomes apparent that the Psalmist is longing for a place he can physically get to in this lifetime.
He talks about people traveling great distances to get there.
As a place that birds can get to.
It’s a physical place.
The phrase “God’s dwelling place” in this Psalm has to be something physical you can get to on earth.
And it has to be somewhere that give you a glimpse of the positivity of heaven.
Friends, it’s the only Sunday School answer we haven’t considered yet.
The author of this Psalm was one of the Sons of Korah. Does that sound familiar? We looked at a Psalm of this writer way back during our Anxiety sermon series. Psalm 42. It was written by one of the Sons of Korah who had been separated from Jerusalem during a civil war. As a result, his soul longed for returning to the temple where he could worship God, just like a deer pants for streams of water.
If this Psalm was written around the same time as Psalm 42.
Then, the “God’s dwelling place” referred to is none other than the temple.
But what about modern times?
We don’t have a temple.
We have a...
Jesus said this to his disciples, “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am with them.” (Matthew 18:20)
This is more than just a, “I’m everywhere,” statement by Jesus .
Here he promises to be with his people when they gather in his name.
He promises to be in his word.
He promises to be in Sacrament.
He promises to be with his people.
This was key for Jesus’ disciples to hear. Because very soon after these words were spoken, Jesus would be killed.
He would rise.
He would physically ascend to heaven.
And Jesus’ disciples would be left behind.
They would be persecuted.
They would have to gather together in small, hidden rooms for fear of being hauled off and thrown into the lion’s den because of their faith…
Jesus would dwell with them.
II. Yearning for God’s Dwelling Place
At the time that this Psalm was written, the people gathered to worship God in the temple. This Psalmist couldn’t wait to get back there. In verse 2 he writes, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.”
Again, the writer was a priest who had separated been separated by civil war from God’s house.
If ever there’s been a time in history that people could understand what this guy was feeling, 2020 is it.
Do you yearn for this place?
Does your heart and your flesh cry out to be with God’s people?
Are you about to faint?
Are you kinda glad that COVID happened? It has really freed up your weekend?
Does your heart yearn for the latest episode of The Bachelor more than seeing that one church guy again?
Honestly, is there a part of you that is thankful you have an excuse not to go, because then you don’t have to run the risk of seeing that guy with a political opinion different than yours?
I don’t mean to guilt you into putting your physical lives in danger.
Not at all. Not remotely. That’s not what I’m saying.
If you don’t have some kind of yearning.
If you don’t have some kind of want.
Even a smidgen of, “I’d like to gather again.”
I do have deep concern for your souls.
If your heart isn’t yearning for the place where God’s people gather…
It’s hard to see how your heart is yearning for God’s people.
And if you’re heart isn’t yearning for God’s people…
Then, how can your heart be yearning for God?
And if your heart isn’t yearning for God…?
You are in spiritual danger.
To put it another way, God calls his people his “body”.
Now it isn’t very common for someone to say to me, “Phil, I like you. But I really hate your left kneecap.”
You can’t love a person and hate their body part.
Similarly, you can’t claim to love God and want nothing to do with his people.
A heart not yearning for God’s DWELLING PLACE reveals a lack of yearning for GOD.
And if you don’t yearn for God.
This is terrifying.
Because you might be on the verge of getting exactly what you want.
Not being near God or his people.
Thankfully even when we weren’t yearning for God…
God’s heart yearned for you.
He abandoned his heavenly throne.
He came to the negativity of this place called earth.
He experienced an ungodly amount of negativity.
He took on all the negativity of your sins.
He died and came back to life.
He conquered death itself that we too might conquer death itself and enter the eternally perfect courts of heaven.
God YEARNS to dwell with YOU.
God yearned to dwell with you so much that he died for you.
And God yearns to dwell with you so much that he is calling to you right now.
But that isn’t just for his own sake.
It isn’t to boost his ego.
It isn’t so that God can call up his buddy Moses and say, “Guess who hung at my house last week?
God yearns to dwell with you for your sake.
Not just in heaven.
Look at what the Psalmist writes next:
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, Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Back in the day, the temple was an incredible structure. It was made with large columns with trellises near. It was an easy spot for a little pigeon to hide in. High above the city, he could see danger from a mile away. Hidden in the crevices, he was protected. Tucked into the little nest, he was safe.
If God does that when birds go to God’s dwelling place.
What will he do for you?
God BLESSES time dwelling with him.
He uplifts his people.
He encourages his people.
He comforts his people.
He rebukes his people.
He strengthens his people.
He inspires his people.
He cheers his people on.
He does that for his people.
Through his people.
In the place where his people dwell.
III. What Now?
(1) Do WHATEVER It Takes TO Dwell with God
Check out the next verses of the Psalm:
Blessed are those whose strength is in you, whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka, they make it a place of springs; the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion. (v 5-7)
In Old Testament times, it was common to make a pilgrimage to God’s temple in Jerusalem. Since the temple was in the south, those in the north would have to travel about a hundred miles just to get to the temple.
The place that is mentioned here is the Valley of Baca. That’s not even a real place. It means “valley of sorrows.” The point is that even though the journey might be long and filled with sorrows (i.e. “I have a blister on my right heel from walking in these sandals for so long)…
The blessing of gathering with God and his people made all the pain worth it.
Do the same.
If it means going to Saturday worship because there’s a smaller crew of people, do it…even if you can’t hang out with your friends as early.
If it means putting on a mask even though it’s a bit uncomfortable, but it allows you to gather, do it.
If it means turning off your phone while you sit in front of the laptop to ensure you can get the most out of online worship, do it.
Because honestly, people are doing whatever it takes to get to the voting booth this year.
Why not do whatever it takes to dwell with God and his people?
(2) Do WHATEVER It Takes as You Are IN God’s Dwelling
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
At the temple, one of the jobs was to open the giant doors to the temple and close the doors behind the people that went in.
That must not have been a very glamorous job.
No one cheers for the doorkeeper.
No one celebrates the doorkeeper.
No one gives out awards for the best doorkeeper in the business.
Yet the Psalmist was happy to be a doorkeeper.
Not ‘cause he loved holding doors.
Because it meant he was in God’s house.
Same thing, friends.
God wants us to be thrilled to do whatever he calls us to do because we are doing it in God’s house.
Whether it’s baking cookies…
Or holding the oven door open for the guy making cookies.
Whether it’s singing music.
Or holding the folder open for the guy singing music.
Whether it’s holding the door.
Or disinfecting the handles for the guy who holds the doors.
Look at how the Psalmist concludes this song --
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. Lord Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you. (v.11-12)
Did you hear that?
Did you hear what God withholds from those dwelling with him?
No good thing.
All good things are yours as we gather around God’s Word.
Look at our church sanctuary when you have a chance.
What do you see when you look at it?
This wood on this altar that has some chips in it.
The carpet that’s stained.
The baptismal font that has some warping in it.
Sometimes the pews that have Oreo crumbs on them.
The cushions near the altar that are somewhat faded.
But look again.
This is so much more than that.
This altar is where the life changing Gospel has been preached to a man who thought his drug-filled past meant God could never love him.
This carpet is where I was standing as I prayed with a mother who had lost a child.
This baptismal font is where my shaky, water filled hands have delivered God’s baptismal promises to a beautiful newborn girl.
These pews are where I sat as I held the hands of family who had lost a loved one and shared the promises of the resurrection.
The cushions at this altar are we guilt stricken, conscience terrified sinners have knelt and heard God’s promises: This is my blood given for you.
How LOVELY is God’s dwelling place.
It is no fun feeling forgotten.
I still have memories of a time in middle school that I had to stay after for one reason or another and Mom had to come pick me up instead of taking the bus home. Of course, this was well before cell phones, let alone smartphones. And I just remember standing there in the school parking lot… watching… as I heard each new car come by and each one turning out not to be ours for what felt like a very long time. And I’m pretty sure I started to feel a little upset that I was left waiting for so long, and then as the minutes crept on, maybe a little more so scared that maybe she forgot entirely.
Well, I did not live out my youth in a dumpster behind the school. Naturally, she did show up. And all told, I don’t think I was waiting more than 15 minutes. When you’re young, that can be a scary long time.
But, it’s hard to feel like you’ve been forgotten by somebody. It’s tough when it’s someone close, like family or a friend. You were going to get together and they just… don’t show. They didn’t message you because… well, they forgot. And it’s a little harder when it’s not a one-off accident but you just sort of fade out of someone’s life. Someone you thought you mattered to. Maybe life changed and those regular opportunities that you saw each other stopped happening. One of you took a different job or the evening activity where you crossed paths is over. And now that the friendship would require active outreach to maintain… you’ve stopped hearing from the other person.
It can be really discouraging to find out you’re not as important to someone as you once thought. And since we’re dragging ourselves down the hole, let’s just go all out and ask – how much worse if it’s God who’s forgotten us?
I mean, you may know better. God doesn’t forget, you say. But that doesn’t stop the feelings. That doesn’t stop the question from cropping up sometimes. Let’s not pretend we’re too good to feel that way or that it would be somehow shameful and embarrassing to admit. Because our psalm for today comes to us from King David. David was one of the greatest kings of Israel and one of the greatest examples of faith in the Lord from the Old Testament. But David was human. David was sinful. And David had his times of weakness. Psalm 13 is just one example of his wrestling with that sinful nature, in this case struggling with feeling forgotten by God.
Listen to the start of this psalm and see if these words resonate with you at all:
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I experience worries in my soul,
sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy tower over me?
Look at me. Answer me, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes
so I do not sleep in death,
so my enemy does not say, “I have overcome him,”
so my foes do not rejoice when I fall.
I read that, and it almost makes me want to cry. Big, manly tears mind you, but still. It’s heartbreaking to hear someone else suffering like that but perhaps even more so because I know exactly what that feels like. There’s so much trouble in our world and our lives, but we get through it because we know we have our God to lean on, that he is always there to help us… so how do we handle it when we feel like that’s not there anymore? If we start to question, doubt, or just plain think that God’s not helping?
Ridiculous, you might think. But falling into that is easier than you think. King David succumbed to it. Take a look at each of his laments and ask yourself if you’ve ever felt that way…
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
When we suffer under a difficulty, when we pray to God for help and nothing changes, when days turn into weeks and maybe even years and it’s still the same… How long can we endure before our prayers turn into cries like this? How long, Lord? Are you listening? Are you there? Why are you hiding? Am I waiting at the bottom of a to-do list that you’ll never get to or have I dropped off your radar entirely?
How long must I experience worries in my soul,
sorrow in my heart every day?
And without help, without attention… how many days do you spend wrapped up in your worries, and how many sleepless nights does it bring? If God would just help, or at least acknowledge you, then maybe you could have some peace knowing this will be handled. But when it’s so painfully obvious that you’re on your own, you end up in that state where nothing gets done because all your time and energy is consumed by worry and sorrow.
How long will my enemy tower over me?
And maybe this struggle is caused by more than just bad circumstance. Maybe there’s literally people acting against you. We talked about this last week. Maybe you have a particular thorn or two in your side. Maybe it’s just the random indifference or even spite of the people you meet day to day. But it’s easy to feel like you’re always losing against them, you’re always the one who has to bend and give in and give up, and it shouldn’t have to be that way right? If God were here, if God were on your side – how can you lose against mere people?
Look at me. Answer me, O LORD my God.
Give light to my eyes
And here’s the thing. The questions pile up. The evidence piles up. We wonder why God doesn’t help, why he doesn’t act, where is he at all. I mean, as Christians we understand and accept that this life needs to have some trouble in it. God said it will not be perfectly easy. But… when we’re in the middle of so much trouble, is it too much to ask him to at least explain a little? To “give light to our eyes” and show us why this is going on? It would be so much easier to bear if we could see the purpose behind it but so often it feels like we get nothing but radio silence from him. It can come to this point where maybe we accept the suffering but all we really want to know is, “why?”
so I do not sleep in death,
so my enemy does not say, “I have overcome him,”
so my foes do not rejoice when I fall.
And maybe one last point that sort of drives home this idea that God is just not paying attention. Because what sort of message is it sending to the world when his people are the ones suffering the most, getting beaten down the most, and succeeding the least? If enemies literally kill us and God does not retaliate. If our lives are struggle after struggle against those that look down on us for being Christian, what does that say? They sit and laugh and rejoice because they win and we lose and we’re not clever enough to see how wrong we are because if God really were here, they wouldn’t be able to get away with half of what they do, right?
And you know what? When you consider the evidence that God has forgotten you… it can seem pretty compelling.
But… you can’t just look at half the evidence. David, after all his laments here, did not stop at that point. After listing all the reasons he has to despair, he finishes the psalm with these words:
But I trust in your mercy.
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD
because he has accomplished his purpose for me.
After everything he just listed off, how could David make such bold claims as this? Well, we’ll get into more detail about it, but it really comes down to this one word here at the end of the first line: “mercy”. In the original language the word here is hesed, a special word that really captures what God’s love is all about. My favorite way to bring it into English is “unfailing love”. And there’s a couple things about it that make it unique…
God’s love is unlike most love we know. We usually love as a reaction, regardless of which kind of love you’re talking about, whether it’s family, friend, romantic, or just about a good cheeseburger. Something appeals to us and we love it as a reaction. But, not God. God’s love has its origin within himself. He loves because he chooses to. it has nothing to do with us or who we are or how we act.
Even more than that he loves because it is a defining quality of who he is. So, God’s love is not something that changes by circumstance either. It’s not affected by what he saw on Facebook or the news that morning or that something he just ate is disagreeing with him like our emotions can be. He cannot stop loving us because it literally defines who he is. God’s love for you… is an objective fact.
And most importantly, God’s love has a singular, driving purpose. To do what is best for you at all times. That is all God does with his love, and the power and authority he has behind it. He only ever uses it to do what is best for you.
All of that is wrapped up in that word, hesed. And that alone is evidence enough to dispel the doubts that God may have forgotten us. We just trust in that mercy, that unfailing love. But the great thing about God? He doesn’t just stop there. He has left us so much proof that he loves you. So much proof that he does not forget, that he does not abandon. So, let’s take time this morning to consider the trail of evidence he left us.
From the moment the first people, Adam and Eve sinned, he was there to help. They broke his law, they condemned themselves and everyone after to eternal separation from God, and yet God came immediately and promised a savior. He promised someone who would undo the devil’s work and bring peace back between themselves and God.
Now we don’t possibly have time to get into every example, but from then on, the Old Testament of the Bible is largely just account after account of God’s faithful love to his people. Both taking care of them in the moment and, more importantly, guiding history to reach the point when we were ready for the savior to arrive. And those people constantly turned away, constantly rejected God, constantly complained, constantly forgot him. But all the evidence is there… he never forgot them. He never abandoned them. He always did what was best for them.
And of course, we reach the culmination of God’s unfailing love through history when we get to Jesus. When he became one of us so that he could go in our place. For all the times we’ve turned from God or doubted his love or failed to trust him…Jesus did it all perfectly and then sacrificed his perfect life so that our wrongs could be taken away from us. He suffered our punishment so we could be set free.
God… who does not need us. God… who we only ever antagonize. God… gave up everything and died so that we could be spared the punishment we rightly earned. And to prove it was true, he rose from the dead and proclaimed us forgiven in him. That is the full expression of his hesed, his unfailing love. Jesus is truly the best evidence that God has not forgotten you.
And even though it’s the best – it doesn’t stop there either – God keeps going! In the history that followed God still watched over his people and still guided his believers to spread that good news about Jesus across the world. He took care of those who loved him and he reached out through them to as many more as they could.
And through their effort and God’s guidance… you have been taught about Jesus. You have been brought to faith in him. And you have the truth and trust that lets you escape this world and go to paradise. God did that for you. He has never forgotten you, he is always thinking about getting you home with him.
But you know what? Let’s bring it back down for a minute. Yes, God has saved you through Jesus, and yes that’s all we truly need and it is the best demonstration of his love. But even back at our daily problems… he is still here. He has not forgotten you and he has not left you alone. And there’s more evidence. I know you have it. Look back over your own life. I’ll give you a minute. Look back and see the times that God has guided you, guarded you, directed you, cared for you.
Maybe that accident you narrowly avoided. Maybe a foolish decision you made that should have derailed your whole life but God corrected. Maybe it’s all the times God just let the right pieces fall into place at exactly the right time to bless you better than you thought possible. Just look, you’ll see the evidence that God has been there all along.
With that in mind, I want to circle back on our original problem… when we are in the midst of trouble we don’t understand and don’t seem to be getting help. Because none of what I just said suddenly will change the situation or explain what God is up to, right? The solution… is to build up our trust. See trust is what we hold on to when we don’t have proof or evidence that something is true. Trust is what we give someone when we don’t know for a fact how they will act.
Trust is what lets us say to God, “I am suffering. But I know you’re here. And I know you love me. And I believe you when you say this is what is best for me, even though I can’t understand or see how that is.” Trust does not need to understand everything God does, trust just knows that God loves us, and that can be enough. And in the end, when he does deliver us, like the boy waiting for his mom to pick him up from school, we’ll look back and realize, we weren’t really waiting all that long. God had it under control.
And so when we struggle about feeling forgotten by God… return to God. Go back to his word and consider his promises. Promises like this one:
I will never forget you. (Is 49.15)
Doesn’t get much more direct than that, does it? And that’s just a sample. You’ll find that and many more scattered throughout his word. And then on top of that, you’ll find proof that he carries out his promises. Beyond the greatest promise and fulfillment of Jesus, you’ll see so many other times that God said he would act… and never once does he fail. The evidence is all there.
And, as if all that were not great enough, God’s word has a special promise associated with it. He promises to work through that word in his power to build up your trust in him. It’s not even up to you. Being in his word, studying what he has given us – he will do the work of building up that trust.
In the fullness of that trust, we can endure the difficulties. Not that we won’t occasionally lament. Not that we won’t have days when it feels like more than we can bear, but at the end of it all, we can repeat confidently with David:
I trust in your mercy.
My heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD
because he has accomplished his purpose for me.
A first-person shooter is a type of video game where you experience the action from the perspective of the protagonist, who is shooting to fight off those attacking them. It is a very popular genre of game, offering the thrill of being in a very dangerous situation, depending on your own skills to come out alive, but with no actual risk. It provides a sense of being there yourself.
Many Psalms are written from a first-person perspective. Much of the Bible is third-person narrative, telling the story of how everything was created by God, how Jesus went about teaching and finally ending up at the cross. Other parts are instructive, telling us what to believe and what we should do as children of God. We can nod in agreement and say we believe what it is saying. But when we read many of the Psalms, we are taking the words of the Psalmist and making them ours; this makes things more personal.
In the case of Psalm 71, we see no writer or anything else in the title. Many think this was written by King David in his later years, but we need not concern ourselves with that. What we do notice is that this was written by a person who had gone through many trials and difficulty, in fact, was still going through them, but had a strong faith in his God to save him. The troubles are not specific. So we can read this, putting ourselves into the Psalmist’s shoes, and appropriating for ourselves the faith and hope that he has.
Hope for when Others are Against You
I. Turn to the Lord
II. Tell of the Lord’s works
I. Turn to the Lord
A. Facing wicked people
In the beginning of this Psalm we hear the Psalmist asking God for deliverance, “from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel,” “from my enemies who speak against me; those who want to kill me,” from people who are pursuing him and want to seize him. We have to recognize that there are wicked people in this world, who oppose God and oppose us who follow him. The Psalmist was almost certainly a man of good character, and still he was pursued. We may not have anybody who wants to kill us, but there are people around us who are evil and cruel, who want to tear us down, take credit for our accomplishments, take advantage of our kindness, deceive us and take our money. They want to defame us, make us look shameful. And as we get older, we get more feeble, both mentally and physically, more easily taken advantage of. Without a God who loves us in this world, it would be a scary place.
B. Asking the Lord to deliver and saveLike the Psalmist, there are evil people who are against us. But like the Psalmist we can turn to the Lord, ask him to rescue us and deliver us, to be for us a dependable refuge. The Psalmist has learned this from his youth, yes, even from birth; he had faith in the Lord, he relied on his God. He knew him whom he had trusted.
Some of us have grown up being taught that same faith, learning to know that our God will save us from a young age. Others have learned that later in life. It is all based on how God has saved us, first and foremost, from our sins, from our guilt, from eternal punishment. We put a big cross in our church to remind us of how he sent his Son into this world to take our sin and its punishment, to die in our place on that cross, then to rise again to life for our assurance. He saved us from our greatest trouble; he can be depended on to save us from our lessor troubles. He saved us from the devil and his evil angels; he can be depended on to save us from wicked people around us.
What does that look like?When we look at the world around us, especially through modern media like television and the internet, seeing wars and bloodshed in many areas, we realize what a sheltered life we have, for the most part, here in the United States. Here is one of the ways our God has sheltered us, by placing in in a country, community, and perhaps even in a family relatively free of violence and fear of physical harm. Now that’s not completely true of everyone in this country; we each have to consider our own situation and thank God for protecting us alive to this day, for the opportunity to live relatively free of threats and bloodshed. We pray for reprieve from threats we face in our situation, but we will find other ways God has protected us. Even with threats around, he can protect us from many kinds of dangers we may not even know about. And we all pray that he keep us safe in this dangerous world.
Threats come in more subtle and less physical ways. Many people around us do not believe in Jesus, and, as Jesus says, those who are not for us are against us. We can be thankful for protection, for the most part, against physical harm from these people. But their anti-Biblical opinions and feelings, their belittling of Christian beliefs, their reliance on their own efforts rather than on God’s, can be wearing, gnawing at the edges of our faith. We turn to God in prayer and in his word to give us strength to withstand these subtle but dangerous attacks on our faith. In this sense these people are against us.
But there is another way this Psalm gives us hope when others are against you.
II. Tell of the Lord’s works
A. Tell of the Lord’s righteous actsIt has been said that the best defense is a good offense. In the second part of this Psalm, the writer uses this approach. In the face of people opposing him he says, “My mouth will tell of your righteous deeds, of your saving acts all day long.” He goes on to say this in different ways. It was an important part of his life.
He would tell how the Lord forgave him his sin, adopted him into his family, grows his faith through the word, and gives him an eternal home in heaven. These are righteous acts and done for all believers that all can tell about. He would also speak of how the Lord had protected him and prospered him, given him health and family, among many other blessings. Since we don’t know who the writer is, this list could vary, depending, for example, on how healthy he was and how big a family he had, just as it will vary for all of us. But there would be a list of things, righteous things, the Lord had done for him in his life.
This telling of these righteous things would have the effect of turning back those who oppose him, even calling them to repentance and faith in God. Telling of the things God has done for us is how faith is planted in the heart of a person. But this telling of things God has done would have beneficial effect for the speaker, strengthening his own faith as well.
B. Teach the next generation
But there is another purpose for telling these things. He notes, “since my youth, God, you have taught me.” He had learned of God’s righteous deeds while he as young. Earlier in this Psalm he had said, “From birth I have relied on you.” God had almost certainly not taught him directly; this teaching came through his parents and other faith-filled people around him. They spoke of God’s righteous deeds to their son.
And so he goes on, “Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, my God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your mighty acts to all who are to come.” He wanted to relay this message of God’s righteous and saving acts to the next generation, which would certainly include his own children and grandchildren, if he had any. In fact this could have been some of the only things he could do in the last years of his life, when he might otherwise feel feeble and useless.
C. Tell of the honor and life that awaitsThe Psalmist ends this Psalm on a high note of praise for his God, even though, he writes, “you have made me see troubles, many and bitter.” His confidence, his hope is this, “you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up.” His hope was ultimately in the resurrection to an eternal life of joy and bliss. On the day that will happen, all those who opposed God and his people, who refused to listen to him, will be “put to shame and confusion.”
What does this look like?Remember this Psalm is written from a first-person perspective, so when we read it we put ourself in his position. We tell of his righteous acts, we tell what God has done for us to whoever will listen. Are you forgiven, are you blessed by God, do you have hope in God for all eternity? Then tell about it, make that telling a part of your life. Is there a generation around you that needs to hear of God’s righteous deeds? Tell them, pass it on. Do you have a hope of heaven? Let your hope be known to those around you. Take up the words of the Psalmist.
We can conclude with him, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praise to you—I whom you have delivered. My tongue will tell of your righteous acts all day long.” Amen.
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.
Have you ever made a house of cards? It is a tedious task and you have to be very careful at every step. As you successfully get taller, it can look like a rather grand construction project. But of course it can fall down with one false move. Or if someone comes in and purposely knocks it down. And the whole thing is destroyed.
Does your life ever seem like a house of cards? Does it feel like it could fall or has already fallen down like house of cards? Or does world feel like it is falling down like a house of cards—disasters and wicked people everywhere?
Well, there is a Psalm for that. It was one of Martin Luther’s favorite Psalms and gave him hope in difficult times. It can do the same for us. Let us take a look at it as
A Psalm of Hope for When Disaster Strikes
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
I. God is our fortress as the world falls apart
A. The world is falling apart
In Psalm 46 we read, “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.” (v2-3)
Another hurricane has hit the Alabama coast and Florida panhandle with 100 mph winds, 30 inches of rain, and a 6-foot storm surge. There are more storms forming and they have already had to start using the letters of the Greek alphabet for names. Fires are ravaging the west coast. A pandemic is sweeping through the world. Many other disasters are happening all over the earth. So indeed the “waters roar and foam,” though the mountains aren’t falling into the heart of the sea just yet. It is still pretty scary.
What is happening to this world? Well, it all started when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God’s clear command. And then we hear God say, “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life” (Gen 3:17). And Paul tells us, “The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it” into a “bondage to decay” (Rom 8:20,21). Natural disasters will increase and become signs that the end is coming, as Jesus says, “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven” (Lk 21:11). We can consider Covid-19 one of those pestilences. And we can conclude:
This world is falling apart.
We note that these all came into this world because of sin, directly or indirectly. Now it would be pretty hard to point to any particular sin causing most earthquakes, though some other disasters can be traced to or worsened by sinful acts of mankind. Was the larger death toll in the United States caused by mismanagement of our government or were there larger, uncontrollable forces at work? Is our worsening weather caused by overuse of fossil fuels or are the other things happening we can’t explain? I really don’t know. Plenty of accusations are flying around as people panic and are desperate for some explanation. But no one really knows. And WE don’t need to.
B. God is our fortress in this world
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (V1-2). That is a lofty thought, but how does it work? In what way is God a refuge and strength?
Later in this Psalm we read,
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day” (v4-5).
God takes his people and forms them into a city, his city, a holy place, where he dwells, where he provides pure streams of water. Through his Son and the shedding of his blood on the cross, he has purified us to be his holy people. He is pleased to live within us, to call us his own. And to protect us. That doesn’t mean nothing will ever happen to us on this earth. In fact, we will go through much tribulation. But nothing can separate us from him, nothing can truly harm us; even death itself becomes for us the door to heaven.
But this is hard to hold on to, hard to believe. So he provides streams of water to revive us, the message of his Gospel, the good news of all that he has done for us. It starts with how he created us, how he preserves us, how he saved us, how he made us his own. When we review that good news, we are revived, we are renewed in believing that he is projecting us in the midst of disasters and pestilences. It is what we gather in this church to hear and rejoice in. We conclude:
God provides us a refuge in this world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the world falls apart.
II. God is our fortress as the wicked fight
A. The world is full of wicked people fighting us and others
But it is not just storms and pestilences that attack us. The Psalmist tells us, “Nations are in uproar” (v6). Then he goes on to talk about “desolations…on the earth,” then “wars,” “the bow,” “the spear,” “shields,” all of these parts of fighting, killing, and savage acts. This is all the direct result of sin, of wicked people in this world. While this is pictured as things happening between nations, similar things happen on a more local level, in communities, even in families. People shooting each other in increasing numbers in certain areas. Things happening that make some people even afraid, whether wrongfully or rightfully, of the police who are supposed to protect them. Bombs, missiles, armed conflicts ending in casualties in many parts of the world. People feeling driven to demonstrating, even rioting, in a desperate attempt to find solutions.
Again, our Lord Jesus told us these things would happen in this sinful world. He said, “You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom…At that time many…will betray and hate each other” (Mat 24:6-10). Even his people will be persecuted and put to death. We conclude:
The world is full of wicked people who fight us and each other
B. God breaks and protects from the fighting
But there is hope for us who trust in our God. The Psalmist writes,
“Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire” (v8-9).
Now in an absolute sense, this hasn’t happened yet. The final fulfillment of this awaits the last day, when it for sure will happen. And defeating and punishing all the wicked people in this world, namely, those who refuse to listen to the Lord, will be devastating, will cause desolations on the earth.
But when the Lord comes to rule in a person’s heart, when that person comes to believe that he is their Lord and Savior, amazing things happen. Their stony hearts are broken, they become forgiving rather than belligerent, They put down the spear and bow; they seek reconciliation rather than war. When a person accepts that they are a sinner, that God has forgiven them, that he wants them in his family and will protect them, then they no longer feel a need to fight, they can let go and let God take care of them. The Lord does that when he comes into a person’s heart; he did that when he came into your heart. We conclude:
God breaks down the fighting in his people’s hearts.
Of course this is not a perfect change on this earth. We still retain an old self that is slow to trust and slow to let go the instinct to fight; this change grows as we grow in our faith. Then there is the fact that we still live in a sinful world, full of other people who do not believe, who feel a need to fight and defend themselves. Now God will sometimes allow the wicked to inflict wounds on his people to carry out his purposes on this earth, but he will not let anything truly harm us or separate us from him. He is our fortress.
God protects his people from the attacks of the wicked
The Psalmist goes on to write:
“He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.” (V10)
There will come a time when this change will become perfect. Our Lord will return to this earth. The wicked will be consigned to hell; this will be the desolations he brings to this earth, leaving the implements of war broken on the ground and showing that the Lord is exalted. At the same time his people, confirmed in their holiness, will be gathered to live with him in heaven, in perfect harmony and peace, with him and with each other. There will also be no more disasters of disease or flood or earthquake. Just perfect peace and tranquility.
God will deliver his people from this wicked world.
Truth: God is our fortress as the wicked fight.
God said he will protect us and deliver us. We often suffer because we do not trust him enough. But he has provided the stream of his gospel to strengthen our trust.
Be refreshed by the streams of his gospel.
Through the gospel he not only strengthens us, he changes us, leading us to fight less and trust more. We can become more peaceful and at peace.
Let his gospel put you at peace and live in peace.
God is a fortress for his people in this world that is falling apart and at war. He is almighty and wants to be with us. Let us learn to trust in his protection. “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (V11). Amen.
A song for the ascents.
Before we dig into the Psalm proper, I’d like to speak a moment on this heading, “a song for the ascents.” Most of the headings we find in our Bibles are additions put in by modern publishers to help us in following the flow of thought. They do not exist in the original languages.
This is not always the case in the Psalms, however. Many of the headings or notes we find in Psalms exist in the Hebrew text. See, the book of Psalms was something like an ancient Jewish hymnal. And so, we often find there notation for their musicians, or a mention of the author, or the historical context the psalm was written in, or in this case, the purpose of the psalm.
Psalm 121 is the second in a block of fifteen psalms labeled as “Songs of Ascent”, give or take how you translate it. Without any further explanation, we are left to speculate on what exactly this means, but we can make some fairly educated guesses. For example, it could refer to songs the priests sang as they went up into the temple to worship. It could also refer to songs that people would sing as they went up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple each year.
Even the psalm itself “ascends” in thought as it progresses, each thought building on the last to a grand final point. And so today we’re going to ascend this psalm together, one step up at a time, and learn what our God has to tell us about help.
We begin with the question:
I lift up my eyes to the mountains.
Where does my help come from?
It is again unclear exactly why looking at the mountains causes the author to wonder about help, but we can again, make a couple of good guesses. For one, mountains were often dangerous places. And not just dangerous to be on, but oftentimes they were sources of dangers. Criminals of all sorts would hide out there. Invading armies would cross the natural borders that mountains created in order to conquer the land. The natural barrier of mountains can even be responsible for some nasty weather patterns. So perhaps looking to the mountains caused our author to think about his problems. Problems he could deal with himself. After all what was he in the face on an invading army or a natural disaster?
Sitting in a moment of quiet and thinking over your problems, real or imagined, is a good way to start feeling helpless. To think that you can’t possibly have what it takes to overcome what you’re dealing with or what might be coming. You think, I can’t possibly deal with all that, who can I get to help me? What can I get to help me? And now you’re adding on top of that panic that you might not find the help you need and you have no idea what the consequences of failure might be.
I’m sure you’ve had this struggle. Are you perhaps even in the grip of it now? We like to think we live nice, orderly lives that we are in charge of, but there is so much out of our control. We just don’t think about it, we don’t realize it day to day. Our health, our finances, our relationships with others, the very world we live in… Any one of those could change at a moment’s notice, and it might not even happen because you did anything wrong. And it may not be in your power to fix it. What do you do when the prognosis at the doctor is grim? When some accident drains the bank account or a turn of the economy takes away your paycheck? When someone you care about decides that they’re just… done with you?
We want to be prepared. We want to deal with the situation. But we need help. Maybe that’s the reason the author was looking to the mountains. Maybe he was already feeling the natural fears of life and the mountains felt like a place of security. After all, it’s easy to hide in the mountains. And even if armies sometimes cross mountains to invade, mountains do provide a natural barrier. You can’t cross them in wide ranks and so it’s an easy place to defend from.
So maybe that’s what we’re doing. Maybe we’re already feeling helpless and a little panicked and we’re looking around asking… where does my help come from? The mountains? Well, probably not literally. But what would be the mountains we try to look to for help? It might depend on the trouble itself, but I’m guessing things like…
…our bank account
…our own strength or ingenuity
…our family or friends
…doctors or medicine
…government or authorities
These are the things that will keep us safe, right? We take care of ourselves generally. But if we need a little more we have family and friends we can lean on. And in extreme cases we can trust in professional help. The medical community or emergency services or law enforcement or government assistance. Sometimes just remembering that whole support network is there is enough to calm us down.
But the fact is that mountains are not a perfect barrier for troubles. Danger still gets through. Nor is any human source of assistance. I’m not calling any of those things or people unreliable, but they’re not perfect. They all can make mistakes. They all can be caught off guard. They all can miss things or make bad judgment calls or any one of a hundred other things because we are all sinners living in a sinful world.
So, you can look at the mountains in fear or you can look at the mountains as a source of sorta-protection but either way the question remains… where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
Okay, let’s not pretend we didn’t know this was the answer. Especially sitting here, gathered together to worship the Lord, we all know, intellectually, at least, that the LORD is where we find our help.
And we know what he has to offer. We know what a great help he can be. After all, he is the maker of heaven and earth. Not only does that mean he has unimaginable power to help us, it also means that all of this is his. He has authorship, ownership, and the authority to be in complete control of… everything.
So how will he use that immense power and authority to help?
He will not let your foot stumble.
He who watches over you will not slumber.
Yes, he who watches over Israel will not slumber.
He will not sleep.
Those are broad claims! A perfect God, always watching. But let’s explore what exactly that means… how he does this. Because I would guess that even though you knew this truth before coming here today, there are still times when you feel helpless. So, what does it mean to trust in God as your vigilant helper? Does it mean when trouble surfaces, we pray to God and then sit quietly while we trust and wait for him to fix everything?
Well, no, probably not. Because God helps through means. He created things here and put people in our lives to help us. So, when we have problems we pray, we ask him for help and support and guidance and then we go to the things and people he’s given us. Things like…
…our bank account
…our own strength or ingenuity
…our family or friends
…doctors or medicine
…government or authorities
But hold up. How is that at all different than before? It’s a change in attitude. First of all, it changes how we approach looking for help. We go to these things not as our saviors, but we go to them recognizing them as good gifts that God put in our lives for us. There is a big difference between saying “Doctor, heal me!” and “God, please use this doctor to heal me.”
But more importantly, it changes our attitude when the help “fails”. And I put fails in quotes because when we trust in the Lord for our help, there isn’t failure. God is in control of it all, isn’t he? God uses the means here on earth to help us in the best way he knows, right?
If one source of help doesn’t turn out how we want… it is not a failure. God is guiding you along a different path. So…when the Lord is our help, we don’t have to fall to pieces and lose hope when one avenue doesn’t work. The Lord chose to let this happen. The Lord is still your help. If both of those are true, then there is still complete hope. God still helps, but he does it in the way he knows best.
The friend may not be there to help you move. The police may not have prevented the break-in or recovered your property. The doctor may have misdiagnosed you or wasn’t able to fix whatever it was. But when we know the Lord is our helper… that’s okay. Because God has not abandoned you.
This, perhaps, is a good place to interject a related thought as we celebrate kids’ ministry this weekend. Because this right here helps highlight why teaching our children about Jesus is so important. I know as parents you want your children to be safe and protected. More than anything you want to be there to help when there is trouble. And oftentimes, parents are the closest source of help that God uses for children. But as a parent, does it bother or even scare you that you can’t always be there? You can’t watch a child all the time, it’s not practical. And as they grow, they get further away. And someday… well someday it’s likely your child will be here on this earth when you are not anymore.
That’s okay. Because, just like all these other sources of help we talked about… it was never really you helping. It is God helping through you. And that is a very very good thing. You don’t have to be afraid or bothered that you might not be there when you’re needed… because God will be. God keeps working when you can’t. God picks up the slack when you’re not there. And God is even better at loving and caring for your child than even you are.
This is why children need Jesus, so they always have him to help. So he can always be there for them when you maybe cannot. Teach your children Jesus, and with him in their heart, they will always be safe.
Because for them and for us all, God does not rest. He does not sleep. He does not take his eyes off you for a moment. And he does not make mistakes. Earthly help may not always be there when you need them. They make mistakes, but the power behind them, God, is using them for your benefit and he is always there and he does not make mistakes.
The LORD watches over you.
The LORD is your shade at your right hand.
The sun will not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
In fact, it goes beyond the troubles we may tend to think of as needing help. God is here to guard and shield you from things no one else has any control over. No one can stop the sun or the moon (at least not outside of Bond supervillains). But God is your help and protection.
Because God has already helped against the most terrible force that no one else can control: death.
Sin is the real problem. Sin is in this world. It’s the reason so much is wrong, it’s the reason we need help so often. And sin is in us. When God says, “Do!” we say, “No, thanks.” And when God says, “Don’t!” we say, “Uh, why not?” And when God says, “Trust me.” We say, “I think I can do better.” Our disobedience to God earns us death. Not just the end of life here, but eternal death separated from God himself. You can’t change that, and no one and nothing here can.
That is the default destination we are born into. Talk about needing help.
But the Lord as our help? He just… makes it right.
The LORD will watch to keep you from all harm.
He will watch over your life.
I’d like to talk a moment about the last words in each of these lines. In the original language there’s some extra connotation to the literal meaning of these words. If we were to translate these words more literally, we might come up with this instead:
The LORD will watch to keep you from all evil.
He will watch over your soul.
When you look at that, and you consider our real problem (sin and eternal death), you can start to understand what it really, really means that the Lord is our help. He wants to keep you from evil. He wants to save you from sin and death. And… he’s done it. Jesus did it. He came to earth as a human being, as one of us, and lived under the law like one of us. And then he gave that life to you. At the same time, he took your crimes and he paid the punishment they deserved. He died in your place.
Jesus on the cross, shouting, “It is finished!” Jesus leaving the tomb on the third day. That is God as your helper. By his sacrifice you are forgiven your crimes and you are no longer cut off from the Lord. Eternal life is yours now, not death.
Now, I don’t want to be coldly logical about this, but let’s be honest. Getting you to that eternal life is priority number one. Anything else you might have to go through… no matter how horrible it might be… well, it doesn’t last, and if that’s what it takes… it’s worth it. Only eternity lasts. When God says that he wants to keep you from evil and watch over your soul, this is what he’s trying to accomplish. He died so you could have heaven. He will do everything he can to get you there.
The LORD will watch over your going and your coming
from now to eternity.
So sometimes it may seem like no one can help. But that’s only because we’re not seeing it. The truth is there is always always always constant help from God. The Lord has promised to watch over every step from here to the end. But we have to understand his goal. Everything he does is directed at getting you home safely. That is the mission. We may have to slog through some rough patches to get there.
At the same time God is not callous and malicious. God cares about your day to day struggles too. And so he has also promised this: as much help as you can bear.
What do you mean “as much as I can bear”? I mean that we need troubles. We couldn’t handle life being easy. If this life were perfect we would quickly forget we need God. We would quickly forget that we’re looking forward to something better. We need trouble to remember that we need God’s help. And God will help. God does help. Sometimes… sometimes that bad situation is the help we need. Think about a struggle you’ve endured lately. Think about one you might be in now. Maybe you can think of a way God is using that to bless you. Or maybe you can’t. Even if you can’t figure out the reason, you can still trust that God is using it to guide you home. That’s the help he promises.
Brothers and sisters, whenever you struggle, whatever you struggle, take this psalm and put it somewhere you’ll need it. Remember the Lord is your help. Remember how he has helped you through Jesus. Remember how he’s helping you now. He has bought you eternity and he is here every step of the road home. You always have his help.