I heard this past week of a new movement that is afoot around the world. It is called the “Maker’s” movement.
I was in the car and I had turned on the radio, and I was listening to one of those technology shows; the kind of show that if you are having troubles with your computer you can call in and ask them what might be wrong with it, or you can ask advice about what kind of phone might be right for you.
So, for instance, one man was interested in making films and he needed a stabilizer for his camera so the picture wouldn’t be bumpy. He could have sunk a couple thousand dollars into one by going out and purchasing one. But he decided to make one for himself. He designed it and bought the parts. Some of the parts he even made in his own shop. And he ended up doing it for a fraction of the money he would have spent.
More than that though, he had the appreciation of making it. He got to see all the little parts and he had a greater appreciation for the intricacy of the little do-dad that he had made. And as a “Maker” he had a greater sense of the wonder of it all.
I’m not much of a maker. But I do know that it is true that understanding the various dynamics of things can help you appreciate it more. I mean, who hasn’t stared at those human body displays, where you can see the intricacies of the muscle system or all the veins that make up your circulatory system. It’s gross, but you can’t help but look at it because it makes you to stand in awe of it.
This reaction is the same reaction you get when you study Scripture. In Scripture we are often presented with the different intricacies of our salvation. And part of the reason that this is so is that we might stand in awe of God and appreciate the grace that has been given to us.
That is certainly true with the passage we have before us today. In this passage Paul is writing about the topic of our being reconciled with God. That is to say, he’s showing us how we have come to have communion with Him. And as he writes we get to see some of the intricate dynamics that allow us to have this relationship. And it is my belief that as we study them, we come to appreciate even more the relationship we have with Him.
In order to grasp the wonder of our relationship, we first have to consider the nature of reconciliation. And three things are said regarding it in verses 21-22. Paul starts by talking about who it is that God reconciles.
I. Its nature [21-22]
A. Who God reconciles
Look at what it says in verse 21. I want you to see how it describes you. It says, that you were once “alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds.” There are three words here that are used to describe you. And the words are not very flattering.
The first word is “alienated.” When you hear that word you should think little green men from outer space. Aliens are unique because they ride in space ships from distant galaxies. They are far away. And that is the essence of this word here in the original language. You are estranged. The Greek word is actually a compound word. It is made up of a word that means estranged and away. You are estranged away. That’s how far away from God you are. You are not just estranged, but you are estranged and away! When it comes to God, that’s how close you are! You are galaxies away, so to speak.
But not only are you alienated, you are also hostile in mind. That’s the next word you find there in verse 21. Now, we tend to think that all is cool with God and us. We like to say that there is no one who is a better buddy than the Lord. But that is not the way it is. You might be chums with the god you made up—the god of your imagination. But when it comes to the true God, you are hostile in mind.
Think here of the middle east. Or, as the case may be, think Ferguson, MO. The hostilities in those places right now. The tensions that exist and the extreme hatred that exists between those respective groups, that is starting to get at how you really feel towards God. Your thoughts are like Hamas.
And then there is the fact that you were “doing evil deeds.” That’s the third word Paul uses to describe us. Our lives were filled with evil deeds. We tell lies. We belittle other people. We disrespect them. We fail to encourage people and uplift them. We made idols out of everything and we neglected the worship of God (or, at the very least, we profaned his worship by not attending to it the way we should).
And that’s not even the half of it. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of your resume of evil deeds. I like the theologian who once said our lives are so inundated with sin that we don’t even recognize 99% of it.
Some of you may know the story of Martin Luther and how he lived a monk prior to his coming to grasp justification by faith alone. The story goes that he would spend 4 hours with his priest confessing his sins. Then, after he left, he was afraid that he always forgot something! He was once speaking with his priest and the priest said, “I haven’t heard you confess anything interesting yet.”
Luther understood that his life was full of evil deeds. Whether it was coveting another monk’s potatoes or having a wayward thought, all of it was evil.
And that is the life of us all. Our lives were characterized by evil deeds, hostility, and alienation..
But yet, that’s who god reconciled. And the passage goes on to tell us exactly how he did it.
B. How God reconciles
It says “he has now reconciled us in his body of flesh by his death.” You see, God couldn’t have communion with us as we were. Something had to be done to remove that hostility. Something had to be done to get those who were alienated back. And verse 22 tells us that we are reconciled not by any prayer that we pray or by turning around our lives. Communion with God could only be achieved through the crucified body of Jesus Christ.
You will notice as you read this that it is emphasizing the physical-ness of Jesus’s sufferings. It is not just his body, but Paul says that it was “the body of his flesh.” Paul is emphasizing the fleshiness of the event and that there was a literal, tangible, biological death that occurred.
The Colossians were Gnostics and they tended to exalt the spiritual over and against the physical. So they might have been tempted to say that Christ didn’t really have a body. Or, at the very least, that he didn’t really die because that would be too carnal.
But here he is emphasizing that the cross was real. The death of Christ was a true death. And if it were not for the suffering and death of Christ, it would not be possible to have a relationship with God. That is how central the incarnation of Christ really is. Without it, and without his forfeiting his life, no one may be reconciled.
There have been some who have also said that God could have reconciled us some other way. They say that the cross wasn’t needed, but that God could have willed our sins away or accomplished our redemption without the shedding of blood. But that is foolishness. To say that kind of thing is to make a mockery of the cross. The Bible makes it clear that without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness. The guilt we have incurred requires death. And the only way we can be reconciled to God is if that penalty has been paid.
And thank God it has. Our redemption has been sealed through Christ and his death.
But this passage not only shows us who was reconciled and how we were reconciled, it also shows us why God reconciles.
C. Why God reconciles
The second half of verse 22 says that God reconciled us “in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him.”
This, you might say, is the whole goal of reconciliation. It is what makes reconciliation possible. So long as you are alienated and doing evil deeds, God can be near you. If God is going to have a relationship with you, you must be holy and blameless.
Young people, I want you to think about it this way: So long as you are a bum, living out in the street, you can’t have access to the country club. You’re clothes are going to be too dirty and too raggedy. You are not going to be clean enough and you are not going to have the credentials to get into the country club. That’s because the country club won’t allow street people in. But let’s say that someone comes along and gives you some new clothes. They get you cleaned up and they vouch for you. Can you get into the country club now? Yes you can.
You are still a bum, right? But in the eyes of the country club, you are different. You have everything you need to get in and enjoy country club life.
That’s is what this verse is saying. God makes you who are alienated and hostile in mind to be holy and blameless. All your sin is taken away. Because of what Christ did on the cross, you sin is removed. And in its place you have the perfect merit of Christ. All his holiness is given over to you. And, as a result, you are ushered into the very presence of God to have a relationship with him.
But you’ll notice that as Paul talks about this reconciliation with God, he is very careful. After he describes how wonderful it is, issues a warning. He reminds us that this reconciliation has a condition.
II. Its condition: Faith 
You’ll notice that verse 23 starts off with the word “if.” The whole passage hinges on this word. It would be like me saying, “Children, I’ll give you a trip to Disney World, if you clean your room.” Now, what happens if you don’t clean your room? Are you going to go to Disney world? Nope. You are going no where. Your going to Disney world depends on your cleaning your room.
Here we have the same thing. Your relationship with God is dependent upon something. Without fulfilling this condition, then you are not reconciled.
Well, what is the condition? The passage says that you need to continue in “the faith.” Now, I’d like you to notice something. It’s important that you get this or you will miss the whole condition. There are two ways to talk about faith. I want you to understand that this is not talking about your believing. It is not talking about the act of demonstrating faith. It is talking about the content of your faith.
Do you see what I mean? It does not say “if you continue in faith.” It says, “If you continue in the faith.” You see, Paul is speaking against the false teachers here. False teachers had crept into the church at Collosse and they were teaching different doctrines. “The faith” was being corrupted. And Paul was writing to make sure they understood that they needed to believe the right things. Otherwise their salvation was in danger. If the doctrines they believed changed, then their relationship with God was in jeopardy.
Look at how Paul really emphasizes this too. In verse 23 Paul describes the faith that they are to hold. He says that there are three basic things that ought to describe the faith you hold. The first is that it must be an orthodox faith.
A. It’s an orthodox faith
He says that “you must continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard.” He uses words from the world of construction here. The words stable and steadfast have to do with a foundation that one lays for a building. You know that some houses that are not built right will have a foundation that shifts. That doesn’t make for a secure house. You know what happens to that kind of house, right? It collapses.
Paul is saying that there is a fundamental truth that God has laid out and that you have been believing. And you need to make sure that you continue to hold firmly to that body truth.
Today we call that body of truth “orthodoxy.” We say we have to make sure we believe what is orthodox. The word orthodox comes from two Greek words “orthos” meaning straight and “doxa,” which means opinion. So orthodoxy stands for the straight opinion. When you have shift your opinion from the straight one, then you’ve got problems.
All this is to say that there is are right things to believe and there are wrong things to believe. There is the orthodox faith and there are things that are unorthodox. And you need to be sure that you are holding to that you are grounded in the body of truth that God has revealed in the Bible and not shifting from it.
The second thing that Paul says about this faith is that it is a catholic faith.
B. It’s a catholic faith
Now, I’m not talking about Catholic with a capital “C.” (as in the Roman Catholic Church). I’m talking about catholic with a lower case c. The word catholic simply means “all.” To believe in the catholic faith is to believe what all Christians everywhere have believed. That’s what I’m talking about. And that is what Paul essentially means when he says that this faith has “been proclaimed in all creation under heaven.”
It is interesting that the book of Colossians had probably been written 30 years after Christ’s death and resurrection. In that 30 years the gospel had spread throughout the whole Roman Empire.
But you get the point. There is a catholicity to the faith. The faith that you are to believe needs to align with the faith that has been preached everywhere else. If it differs from what has been proclaimed in other places, then you’ve got a theological boo-boo.
This is part of the reason why we have creeds and confessions in our church. Some people get a little queasy when we have our confession of faith and recite these documents. But the creeds and confessions are simply helping us to identify what the church has confessed in all places and in all times. We are not setting these things above the Scriptures. Not at all. They are simply helps for us to know what the Bible teaches and they serve as good summary statements to help us know what God’s people have believed down through the ages.
So in this verse Paul says that your faith needs to be orthodox and it needs to be catholic. But, we might add that what you believe needs to be apostolic too.
C. It’s an apostolic faith
Look at the very end of verse 23. You’ll see that Paul pulls himself into the text. He says “of which I, Paul, became a minister.” Paul is pulling out the apostle card here. He understands that his office carries weight. Unlike the false teachers, his words had authority because he was an apostle. God had commissioned him (and the other apostles) to teach and preach the doctrines of the faith and the things that we are to believe. And if anybody teaches anything different, then we need to reject it because it isn’t from God.
All this is to say though that there is a particular faith that we are to believe. And you understand why we are so finicky about doctrine here at Providence Church. We understand that it is the difference between being a Christian and not being a Christian. It is the difference between having a relationship with God and not having a relationship. It is the difference of being reconciled or spending eternity in hell.
Herein lies the wonder of it though: even our continuing in the faith is all of God’s doing. How else would alienated, hostile people be able to continue in the faith? Would we not take a dive off the foundation and do a cannonball into a sea of error if left to ourselves? “If” is an important word. It’s reminding us that this relationship is impossible without the Lord’s doing.
And that he has done it, and done it alone, should make us stand in awe.
The Bible frequently draws on nature and the natural world in order to present us with spiritual truth. The book of Proverbs is especially keen on this.
Really, the book of Proverbs is something of a biblical zoo. There are all kinds of animals contained in this one section of Scripture.
All of these are presented to us as pictures. They are metaphors which depict God’s truth. And from these critters we are to gain knowledge and understanding. We are to take to heart the lessons that they teach us.
The passage that is before us this morning passage is one of those you come across as you walk through the proverbial zoo. In this passage we are presented with a case study on a bird that has gone AWOL. And Solomon wants us to think about how foul this fowl really is. And he wants us to understand how foul it is when we demonstrate the same kind of restless spirit.
It is my hope that as we work through this lesson today you too will be convinced of how foolish it is when we senselessly abandon the place God has marked out for us by his Providence or rage against the calling that He has bestowed upon us in respects to our different realms we find ourselves in society.
In order to do this, of course, we first need to make sure we catch the principle that God is laying out here in this passage. It’s important that we break down what is being taught here. And once we get the overall lesson, we can then talk about some concrete examples of how it may be applied.
So what is this proverb teaching us? What is Solomon getting at here? Well, simply put he’s talking about how disastrous discontentment can be. To put it another way, he’s attempting to show the folly of radical independence, or what we sometimes call autonomy.
For those of you who are younger, autonomy is another word for radical independence. It is where you seek to live only for yourself and to be free from any outside control. Literally it means “to be a law unto yourself.” So, to be autonomous, you break away from your parents, you break away from the church. You just want to get away (like this little bird). You want to break away from the nest and all your responsibilities and all your attachments.
And Solomon is trying to point out how foolish it is to do that. And the way he does it is by means of this bird that leaves his nest.
Think about birds for a moment. The thing about birds is that they have nests. God has given them a place in life. That place is their nest. That is its home. Birds are so tightly knit to their nests that they are almost synonymous. Wherever you find a bird, you are going to find a nest not too far away. That’s because the bird’s life revolves around its nest. She works hard to build that nest. Then she lays eggs in that nest. When the eggs hatch, she’s always fluttering to and from that nest in order to feed the little baby birds. Sure, she may fly off to scrounge up some worms, but she always comes back. That nest is her life.
The nest is her source of protection too. If a storm comes along, what does that bird do? It hunkers down in the nest, doesn’t it? You don’t see birds flying around much when the wind and rain start kicking up, do you? If you do, it’s probably because the little guy is high tailing it home. He knows that if he lingers too long at the bird feeder, things are going to go well for him. He builds his nest because he knows that it is not just his home, it is his fortress in times of need. It’s his place of security.
No matter how you look at it birds are naturally connected to their nests. God has knit that into the very fabric of creation. You might even say that God has ordained a natural connection between a bird and its nest.
But what would happen if a bird did wander off from its nest? What if that bird rebelled against its calling to tend to that nest and just took off? What is going to happen to that bird?
Let’s say that the bird just decided, “You know what, I just want to see the world!” “You know, life in the nest: It’s a bit of a drag.” Or, perhaps she got tired of all those silly little chicks squawking at her every time she came home, ranting and raving about trying to be the first one in line to get the worm that she brought. She just gets fed up with it and she takes off. She wants to go somewhere calm. She just has a Calgon moment.
You guys remember those commercials? There’s the mother who is surrounded by a chaotic home and she cries out, “Calgon, take me away!” And poof, she’s whisked off all by herself to a luxurious bathtub where she gets this wonderful, peaceful spa-like treatment.
What happens if a mother bird has a Calgon moment? She just takes off and leaves her home without any intent of coming back? Well, that bird is going to die. At the very least, it’s going to have a pretty hard life. She’s not going to have a secure place when the storms come round. She’s probably not going to have a good night’s sleep either because she doesn’t have her bed. And, quite likely, she’s going to be exposed to predators. Some little kitty cat will find her to be an easy target because she isn’t safely tucked away in her nest.
More than that, her chicks are going to suffer, aren’t they? They can’t survive without mamma. They are dependent upon mamma. Their lives are very much wrapped up in mamma bird. They need her presence. They need her care. Without mama bird, the little babies will languish away.
If she forsakes the place that God has allotted her, then—in all reality—all hell breaks loose. If she has a willy nilly attitude to her calling in life, then every aspect of that nest life will falter and fail. In a word, “death prevails.”
And Solomon says that is what happens any time one of us skips out on our God’ allotted calling in life. If we put our personal pleasure above our God given place in life, things are not going to go well for us. When we run from the calling God has given us, we are running from God himself. And if you are running from God it means you are running right into hell itself.
God has given us a place in life—each of us has a nest so to speak. God has a home for us, and it’s our job to be content there. It is our job to be faithful to that home and to that calling. If we are not, then we will end up flitting away and, as a result, we’ll bring all kinds of havoc upon ourselves.
Charles Bridges, in his commentary, gives the illustration of Dinah from the book of Genesis. Dinah was one of the daughters of Jacob, and it says in Genesis 34 that “Dinah… went out to see the women of the land.”
Now, this doesn’t mean she went out for a stroll through the neighborhood. It isn’t like she just moved to town and she thought, “Well, I’ll go and meet some of my new neighbors.” When it says that she “went out to see the women of the land” it means that she wanted to hang out with them. She wanted to see them and be a part of them. What she was doing was leaving her home. She wasn’t necessarily physically moving away. But something spiritual was happening. She was attracted to these gentile women and the bond she had to her home and to her father began to break down.
You see, Dinah was called to be at home. She wasn’t supposed to be mixing with these heathen people. And you know what happened? She ended up being seized by a man and sexually assaulted! The moment she forsook her calling to be an Israelite, she put herself at risk.
You can understand what happened there. It probably wasn’t that she up and said, “I’m out of here.” It was probably something that seemed innocent to her. She probably thought, “Wow, those gentile women have such nice clothes. They always seem to be having so much fun.” And she might not have set out to do anything terrible. She probably just wanted to make a few friends.
But what was happening was that she was forsaking the safety of her home. God called her to submit to the authority of her parents. She was called to stay free from the defilement of wrong companions. And you might say she didn’t recognize her place as a girl. She probably should have had a chaperone of some sorts—someone who could protect her from perverts like that.
The thing to note though is that it started with a little discontentment. She wasn’t happy in her home. Life just seemed better with these Gentile women. But once she left her nest, she walked right through the gates of hell.
Now doesn’t Dinah’s story sound like the story of every teenager in America? It is something of the college bound boy and girl, isn’t it? So many kids are discontent at home and they can’t wait to go off to college because they’ll finally be free! No more parents looking over their shoulders. It’s time for them to spread their wings and be independent.
Of course, college isn’t altogether wrong. But it can be a time of radical independence and autonomy. And as a result you can fall into a lot of sin and misery. And you have to be careful that you are not breaking with your home and the God ordained accountability system that we have in your parents and church.
You can see the principle though, can’t you? You can see the disastrous effects of discontent. God’s given you a home. God’s given you a calling. And you are required to be faithful to that calling. You need to seek to please God in whatever situation he has placed you. If you try to please yourself and break free from the responsibility that he has placed on you, no matter how bad you think you have it, you will find you will be worse off than where you began.
And I want you to apply this to your relationships, be they in your home or here in your church home.
I don’t think that I need to elaborate too much on what it is like when a husband or wife become unhappy with their relationship. You know, things start getting a little turbulent in their nest. The two of you were little love birds building a nest together. But kids came along. The love life took a dive. Bills started rolling in. Work had its demands. All of a sudden there is the constant bickering. And it seeks like the best thing to do might be to leave the nest. There will be peace, right? Everyone will be happy, or at least happier, right?
That’s what a lot of people think. But it’s not true. There is never peace. I’ve not met one couple who has separated who could say they were better off now than if they had just worked out their problems together. And its not just you, but the baby birds in your nest are affected too. What happens to the chicks when a couple separates? They experience all kinds of problems! Not only are they susceptible to higher rates of divorce, but studies say that they have problems well into their adult years. They tend to have trust issues, they have trouble articulating their emotions, they experience more bouts of fear and anxiety, among other things.
Rather than seek that autonomy, it would be much more profitable for all parties involved to repent and work out the problems as God has called you to.
The same goes for your relationship with the church too. A local church is our spiritual nest, you might say. Each of us is called to be a part of a church home so that we can serve Christ, worship, and be edified by the means of grace. That’s what the early church did all the time. The Christians gathered together in a fellowship under the authority of elders. That’s why you could write to Philemon and the church in his house.
And it is important that we don’t sever that relationship for light and frivolous reasons. Do you know how detrimental it is when someone will not take his covenant with a church seriously? It has huge ramifications, for yourself, your family, and the wider body of Christ.
Now, granted, there are times to leave a church. But that’s after you’ve exhausted the God given path for that. But let’s admit it: most people who leave churches do not do it for biblical reasons. Or they are just jumping ship without following the due process.
At my former church, when I would do the new members class, I would actually give the prospective members a complaint form as part of the materials that I handed out. I wanted people to complain in our church (at least, complain in the right way). I gave them a piece of paper that helped them spell out their problem and present it to us. If someone had a beef with me or something that the elders did, they had a way to call us out and start the process of reconciliation. And if we didn’t respond properly to their complaint, it would be the presbytery’s job to take up your cause for you.
Church hopping is more of the norm today though. Typically people are not willing to put forth the effort that is required to maintain the peace, purity, and unity of the church. People are not content to deal with the problems in a Biblical way and they up and leave the nest without much thought or effort. And that is foolish.
You know, that’s the essence of autonomy. And the whole nest is affected by it. Everyone associated with that church ends up suffering, from the missionary who doesn’t get as much financial support to the guy sitting next to you in the pew who doesn’t have the opportunity to benefit from your gifts and graces. And you too, no matter how spiritual you may be, no matter how well you may “feed yourself” (as they say), there is nothing like the edification that Mark spoke of last week.
In speaking of the body of Christ Paul said, “If one member suffers, all suffer.” That’s how closely knit we are together. And we need to do everything we can to preserve that body. We need to be faithful to that nest.
Imagine if Jesus took that same kind of attitude. I mean, if anyone could have been discontent with his lot in life, it would have been Jesus, right? That cross that he bore wasn’t the nicest thing in the world. And when they taunted him by saying, “If he is God, let him come down off there and save himself.” Don’t think that thought hadn’t crossed his mind. He would have been tempted every moment to leap off that thing.
But God the Father had called him to give up his life. He was called to die so that our sin might be atoned for and the church might be presented spotless before him. Jesus never left the nest—so to speak. The only nest he left was the one he had in heaven—and that was because the Father called him to it. And it was so that he might bring you back to the Father with him.
Well, I could give about a thousand other instances and applications. We could go through every calling God has given us. We could go on to talk about work home and how we have responsibility to be content in our sphere of labor and how we shouldn’t just ditch our commitment to work without the proper planning and such.
We could go on and on. But the thing that we must remember is that this is ultimately pointing to our home with God. In some way or other, we have all played the part of the prodigal son who was not content to live with his Father. Somehow or other we have flittered away from the Lord. And some of you might be in that situation right now. You might be living in rebellion to God and you are not content to serve him. You are more content living your own way than following Christ and obeying his law.
Well, let me just remind you that when you fly from God, you embark on the path that leads to death. The Bible says that the wages of sin is death.
But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. And if you turn from your sin and return to make your home in God, the Lord promises that you will have life and have it to the full.
The story goes that lightning briefly illuminated the primitive, rock-hewn landscape of Burrington Combe in Somerset, England. It was followed by a deep growl of thunder.
The rain then began to fall. It lashed mercilessly down, pouring bubbling streamlets down the craggy sides of the cliffs which rise up some 250ft.
While waiting for the storm to pass he began to muse on the idea of the “rock of faith” being a shelter from the “storms of life.” According to the legend some words for a hymn began to form in his mind. However he had no paper in his pocket to write them down. Looking down he saw a playing card. The thing was considered a sinful by the young cleric. Nevertheless, he picked it up and began to write the words we just sang:
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee.
We don’t know if that story is altogether true. Some say that it is more apocryphal. But there is no doubt that the words of the hymn are sound. The one who trusts in Christ has the most secure protection. The storms of life, no matter how torrential they may be—no matter how the gales of providence may blow—they will not be a threat to a Christian.
This is certainly what we find in the Psalm that is before us this morning. Psalm 91 is a fitting end to our series on persecution because it reminds us that faith filled followers possess absolute security in earthly troubles. And the reason this Psalm has been a beloved Psalm to so many is because it details for us the source and sum of our security. And it does so in some of the most beautiful ways literarily.
Our passage beings by pointing us to the source of our protection.
I. The source of our protection [1-2]
In the first two verses it says, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the LORD, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
The idea of dwelling in the Most High, or abiding in him as some of your translations may say, is a metaphor for faith. It is, so to speak, to make your faith home in God. It is putting your trust in him. Just as Toplady put his faith in the crags of those cliffs and chose to dwell there in the storm, when we trust in Christ we are choosing to make God our Savior.
When you read this, you immediately notice that this verse the emphasis is not so much on the faith you have to muster. Rather it the emphasis is on the God in whom you are putting your faith. As a matter of fact, it refers to Him in 6 different ways. And the diversity of these titles or descriptions helps us understand that God is the source of our protection.
The first term that we meet with is “the Most High.” This is the Hebrew word Elyon. It refers God’s supremacy. It’s not just that he dwells in the heavens and is higher in terms of altitude. But he is so much greater by virtue of his sovereignty that no one can match him. And since there is not a person or god or being that can begin to compare with our God, are we not safe in him?
The second term that is employed is the word “Almighty.” This is a good compliment to Most High. If Most High refers to his supremacy of his being, Almighty refers to the supremacy of his power. And by employing this term he reminds you that God is a powerhouse no one can stop. And as a result the your security is 100% certain
Then in verse 2 we also see the word “LORD.” Capital L-O-R-D. Now this is a good compliment to the Most High and Almighty. Those were power words. But to call God LORD indicates that His power is favorable to us. The name LORD is that special name of God. It is sometimes called the “covenant” name of God because it is typically associated with God’s special, covenant relationship to his people. For instance, the first time it is used is in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, when God creates all things, the author used the word God (Hebrew “Elohim”). But in Genesis 2, where God creates man and begins to relate to man, the author shifts and uses the word LORD (Hebrew “Yahweh”).
This was also the name that Moses was given when he was commissioned to go bring Israel out of Egypt. Remember that Moses asked, “Who should I say sent me?” And the Lord replied by saying, “Tell them ‘The LORD’ sent you!” So this was supposed to be that name that was special to Israel. It was the name that reminded them that they were in covenant (in relationship) with God.
My family recently enjoyed time at the lake. Every summer Elizabeth’s side of the family gets together for a week at the beach. This year was especially fun because her brother recently got married and his new bride was there with him. It was fun to see the newlyweds interact. They still have something of that puppy love for one another. But one of the things we noticed is that they have pet names for each other, as most married couples do. They went around calling each other “Babers.” “Hey Babers, can you get me a pillow.” “Where do you want to go, Babers?”
Now, it would be extremely awkward if I had said to my brother in law’s wife, “Hey Babers, do you mind watching the kids?” It would be even more awkward if I said it to my brother in law!
Why couldn’t I use that name? It is because they had a special relationship, and I was not part of it.
This is essentially what this name of God means for us. When we see here that he is “the LORD” we are to be reminded of the special relationship we have with Him. And because it is such a close knit relationship, we can be assured that the Most High will be our jealous protector.
You’ll notice then that the passage ties together a string of metaphors which serve as titles for God. It is something of a title wave of titles. He is “my refuge, my fortress, my God.” All of these terms are power words. Elohim is the word for God. As I just mentioned, it is the name used in Genesis 1 which indicates an all powerful creator. It emphasizes the “Godness” of God, you might say. He is the one who is able to bring everything into being from nothing. One who can tear continents apart and scatter stars in the sky like we would throw marbles or sprinkles on a cake.
This God is a fortress and refuge. In other words, he is impregnable. In the OT there were the “cities of refuge.” If you committed an accidental crime, you could flee there and find safety. The one seeking revenge could not touch you once you entered those gates. You were completely safe from your attacker.
And here it is saying that God is you refuge. Since you are in Christ, no one can lay a finger on you. There is nothing they can do to harm you, at least in the ultimate sense.
Doesn’t this remind you of what Paul says in Romans 8? “What can separate us from the love of God in Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? …37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Was Paul afraid of persecution? Absolutely not. Why? It is because he understood the nature of God.
And we must do so too. If we understand who our God is, then we will understand that there is nothing that can hurt us, at least not in an ultimate sense.
Our protection lies clearly in our God. But as we look at our text, we not only see how God is the source of our protection, we see the sum total of the protection that he offers us.
II. The sum of our protection [3-13]
Really, the rest of the Psalm is a commentary on the first two verses. We could very much stop at this point. But the psalm goes on to detail how God is our protection. It is almost as if it gives us a grand overview of what God’s protection is like.
In reading verses 3-10 what we find is that God’s protection is comprehensive.
A. God’s protection is comprehensive [3-10, 13]
Look at verse 3. He lists two things you are protected against in this verse. It says, “For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” The fowler is bird. They would lay traps for it to catch it. This is essentially a metaphor for your enemies who are trying to capture & kill you. So you have your enemies and disease, the two major threats to life.
Those two things are repeated again in verses 5-6. It says “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place-- the Most High, who is my refuge—10 (here how comprehensive it is) no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.
Now, I know this is a series that deals with your enemies specifically. But it’s good to know that God has got your back on every side, right? God has you protected, not just from your enemies, but he has your back when it comes to disease and pestilence too!
We have been a bit sheltered from this kind of thing here in America. We don’t know how easily the outside world is threatened with plagues and diseases. These things are rabid in non western countries.
But we certainly are not immune. In the news the last few days we’ve heard about an Ebola outbreak in Africa. And CNN has reported that a couple Americans who had contracted the disease were being evacuated to America. Twitter was immediately abuzz with people wondering, “Why are they bringing them here?!” You can understand the concern. We don’t want the disease spreading through our ranks now, do we?
Here we have the promise that our God is watching out for us.
The same goes for our enemies. If they would march out against us, we may rest in knowing that our God will stave off their invasions. His normal way of working is to protect his people and allow them to remain safe through the persecutions.
Now, there have been some who have used this verse to say that no harm whatsoever will ever come upon you. They carry it around like a magic trinket, or an invincible steel armor. Perhaps you’ve even heard stories where bullets have been stopped by little Gideon bibles that soldiers have had in their chest pockets. I know one such story where soldiers were issued testaments. Then they marched into battle. At the end of the day one soldier found that he had been hit. The bullet actually stopped right at this verse.
But you understand that this verse is proverbial to some degree. We might say as some have in the past, “We are invincible until God calls us home.” But the truth of these verses should not escape us. In general, God has been the shelter and safety of his people. The norm is that the people of God are kept safe. And while we hear of martyrs and imprisonments and tortures, we should yet remember that many more have escaped the clutches of their enemies or somehow avoided capture.
But not only is God’s protection comprehensive; it is also personal.
B. Our protection is personalized [11-12]
To be sure, this psalm has been very personal throughout. But you see it more clearly, I think, in verses 11-13. It says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”
Some of you might know that this is Satan’s verse. It’s the one he used in his temptation of Jesus. He told Jesus, “Throw yourself down off this pinnacle. The Bible says ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.’ Surely, God won’t let you down.”
You know too how Jesus rebuked Satan and told him not to put the Lord to the test. In other words, we don’t throw caution to the wind and intentionally put ourselves in the place of peril when it is needless to do so. God’s not going to protect a fool.
But it is interesting how Satan realized just how personal God's protection is. And it is true, the Lord does demonstrate his personal care for us. So personal is his care that He has dispatched a squad of angels with the specific mission of watching out for us. God actually commands these celestial warriors to be our personal body guards.
Now, we've all probably heard stories about how we are to have a “guardian angel.” Unfortunately, thanks to “It’s a Wonderful Life” we think of our guardian angel as Clarence. But, if we reflect on what Scripture says, we find that to be a myth. It actually says we have more than one guardian angel. We have guardian angels (plural)!
Scripture tells us that God created myriads of angels. So that means we could possibly have a whole regiment all around us! Just think, there could be a whole company of angels in our presence today, perhaps forming a wall all around this building. (It might be better to think that they are keeping that bell tower from crashing down upon us. Derril and I were talking just yesterday about how once we move out of here we’ll hear how the Mifflin Lion’s Club building collapses.)
The point here though is that God has a special interest in each and every one of us. So particular is his care that he has assigned angels to watch our every move and protect us from God knows what.
The last few verses of the Psalm remind us that our protection isn’t just a comprehensive and personal, but it is 100% guaranteed.
C. Our protection is guaranteed [14-16]
It says, "Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation."
You see how the promises are compiled one on top of another. It is almost as if this Psalm ends with a grand finale. There are a barrage of confirmations which show how certain you may be that he will be your aid in times of trouble.
What is the Lord doing here? He’s doing nothing else than drilling it in your brain one last time. If you’ve been that dense and haven’t gotten it through the psalm to this point, here you go. All of these promises are to confirm to you that God will not let you down.
But take note of what it says in verse 14. Here we have a beautiful picture of why God protects us. It says, “Because he holds fast to me in love.” Another way of saying it might be “He clings to me in love.”
Now I ask you, “Is this not the true expression of faith?” Isn’t that what faith is? Holding on to him in love?
Joe and I have been doing evangelism out on the streets of Ashland and Mansfield. And we’ve come across many people who claim to be Christians and claim to be forgiven. But as you talk to them, you can tell they do not cling to him in love. Maybe they flirt with him. Maybe they give a vague acknowledgement of him or they tip their hat to Him.
But a true Christian clings to the Lord, and he does so in love. And it is this clinging that melts God’s heart and is part of the reason we can be assured that God will protect us.
Every once in a while I get separated from my family. They may go visit my in laws for a couple days and I’ll need to stay home and work (or something like that). And when I walk in, it is always a joy to have the girls come running and give me hugs. But the little ones tend to cling to me. She’ll wrap her arms around me and won’t let go. She’ll stay there with her arms wrapped tightly around me for 10, 15, even 20 minutes because she loves me.
I tell you, that melts my heart when she does that. And do you think for a moment that I would let anything happen to her when she’s there holding on to me like that? Not a chance.
If that is how any one of us would act with one of our children, how much more can we expect the Lord to protect his children when we demonstrate true faith by clinging to him in love?
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.