(S)Monday Sermon: “God’s Provision in a Time of Pandemic” (Psalm 91)

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[The following sermon was preached in August 2020 at Central Baptist Church in Livingston, TX. You can find the video of this sermon here. There are some variations between the two, as happens when you preach, but this is more or less my transcript. Thanks for reading!]

When I first began thinking through which passage I wanted to preach on this morning, I heard about a sister in Christ who had drawn comfort from this passage in particular recently, and I decided to look it over. To be honest, it’s a psalm I’ve read more times than I can even remember, and I felt that I was fairly familiar with it. Well, as you may know, the Bible has a way of catching us off-guard, and some passages seem to be cast in a new light, depending on the circumstances in which we find ourselves. The subject matter of this psalm in particular sounds a lot different to my ear in 2020 than it did in 2019! As I began to dig in and study, I came to realize that many pastors and commentators over the centuries have been drawn to Psalm 91 in particular during seasons of plague and pestilence. One German doctor wrote in the 1800’s that this psalm was the best preservative during a time of cholera. So it is my sincere hope that it will be an encouragement to us as well, in this particular season of pandemic.

Now, I recognize that some of you may have seen the title of the sermon in your order of worship and thought, “Oh boy, here we go.” If your church family is anything like mine, there are folks who are particularly concerned about the coronavirus, and others who are particularly unconcerned. Some of you may be very adamant about wearing masks and social distancing, while others of you may hate every bit of it and avoid doing so whenever possible. I’m going to ask you all to do me a favor: take all of those feelings, all of those disagreements, and put them away for the next hour. I’m not going to bother with litigating those issues of the moment, because the word of God is inspired, inerrant, trustworthy, true, and timeless. What we will look at this morning will apply just as much in the year 2020 as it did in the year 1020 or as it will in the year 3020, if the Lord gives us that long. The truth of God stands the test of time, and as such is just as timely today as it has ever been.

Here’s the big idea for us to consider today: In the day of trouble, God always provides exactly what His people need.

Our outline for this passage is broken down into 4 sections: God gives us his PRESENCE (v. 1-2, His PEACE (v. 3-8), His PROTECTION (v.9-13), and His PROMISES (v. 14-16). To be honest, these are somewhat blurry lines, because the whole psalm is a meditation on these repeated themes. I’ve just broken it down this way for the sake of those who like outlines.

Psalm 91 has no specified author—the previous psalm (Psalm 90) is attributed to Moses. Some past theologians suggest that Psalm 91 was penned by Moses also, citing both this immediate context as well as the similarities this psalm have with Moses’ language in Deuteronomy. Others argue that we should assume this unattributed psalm was written by David, inspired by the sad outcome of the census he made late in his reign. I think the context clues point more strongly to Moses, but it doesn’t affect our reading of this chapter either way. There is no doubt, however, that this psalm seems to allude to the events of the Exodus and journey to the Promised Land, as we will see shortly.

Let’s look at the first provision of God in this psalm: His Presence.

1 – God’s Presence (v. 1-2)

1 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.”

  • What should stand out right away in Verses 1-2 is a sense of intimacy—God is not a far-off deity like Zeus on Mount Olympus, nor is He the Cosmic Watchmaker of the Deists who stands back and refuses to interfere. No, here we see right away the active involvement of God in the lives of His children. The psalmist says those who dwell in God’s shelter will rest in His shadow –you can’t be in someone’s shadow if you’re not close to him, especially in the heat of the day when the sun is at its highest. The shelter of the Most High God is a place of direct divine protection.
  • The “shadow” is a place of protection, proximity, and care. Psalm 121:5 calls the Lord “the shade on your right hand.” Isaiah 25:4 calls God our “shelter from the storm and shade from the heat.”
  • Matthew Henry writes that “a sincere believer takes comfort in closeness with God and can rest easy in that closeness. It is a sign of true religion and growing faith when we desire to spend time in God’s presence.”
  • Charles Spurgeon wrote that the promises of this psalm are particularly held by those who are walking in close communion with the Lord. While all of God’s children draw near from time to time, Spurgeon suggests that those who dwell close to the Lord experience His daily grace and comfort in a richer, more particular way.
  • In Verse 2, the Psalmist makes this promise personal: “I will say…” “my…” These statements are not abstract or academic observations; they are the confession of personal experience!
  • Notice, the Psalmist uses God’s covenant name here—YHWH – the name God revealed to Moses and the people of Israel, the name associated with His faithfulness and deliverance. It is He alone who is the Psalmist’s hope. We dare not turn to another god for protection or provision!
  • Again, from Spurgeon: “Some men love to broadcast their doubts and suspicions… hence, it becomes the duty of all true believers to speak out and testify with calm courage to their own well-grounded reliance upon their God.” I love that phrase, “testify with calm courage.” I grew up in the church and can remember the rise of the “Emerging/Emergent” church movement about 25 or so years ago, a movement influenced heavily by post-modernism that seemed at times to revel in its doubts. This reflected the growth of post-modern thought in our culture as a whole, in which certainty and conviction are seen as arrogant or presumptuous. Yet what do we see in the Bible? We see this calm courage in the mouths and hearts of God’s people, as we say together that we know whom we have believed.
  • In these first 2 verses, we see God as a rest and residence for His people, and it is a privilege to be able to draw near to Him. As believers in Jesus Christ, we now have the assurance that we can draw near boldly, approaching the throne of grace by the blood of Jesus! (Heb. 4:16)

In a season of pandemic and civil strife in our nation, it is good for us to remember that God has provided us with His very presence—a closeness that we as Christians can partake of through our union with Christ Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Paul writes in Col. 3:3 that we have died, and our lives are hidden with Christ in God. Jesus said that no one can snatch His sheep out of His hand. There is no greater security for the Christian than the fact that we are held by Christ, united with Him, eternally secure, with the presence of the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our future inheritance and hope!

See next that God not only gives us His presence, but He also gives us His peace.

2 – God’s Peace (v. 3-8)

3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his pinions,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
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.

A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
    and see the recompense of the wicked.

In Verses 3-8, the Psalmist lists a series of threats and dangers that God’s people face. I would encourage you to notice in this section not only God’s continued presence with His people, but also how He delivers us from fear as well as from danger.

Isaiah 26:3-4 – “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.”

Let’s consider the many dangers, toils, and snares that God’s people face in this passage:

The Snare of the Fowler (v.3): This points to the traps and deceitful schemes intended to catch the righteous. In Psalm 124, David writes that it is only because the Lord was on their side that they “escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers.” In Psalm 140 and 141, snares are the traps that the wicked and arrogant set to capture the righteous and pious, to destroy them.

The Deadly Pestilence (v.3): In the Old Testament, pestilence is often used by God as a judgment against His enemies and a tool of discipline and chastening His rebellious and idolatrous people. Here, God encourages His faithful ones by saying He will deliver them from this deadly threat. Spurgeon writes that “Faith, by cheering the heart, keeps it free from the fear which, in times of pestilence, kills more than the plague itself.”

Look now to verse 4: “He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you will find refuge.” Like a hen covering her chicks, providing protection and warmth by her closeness, the Lord Himself covers His people with his feathers. Notice the contrast here—God delivers His little chicks from the fowler’s snare by covering them with His mighty wing!

The metaphor of God as a protective parent bird is used throughout Scripture. In Deuteronomy 32, Moses likens YHWH to an eagle, not only protecting Israel but catching her and bearing her up with his wings. In Ruth 2, Boaz describes Ruth as taking shelter under the wings of the God of Israel. In Psalm 17, David asks the Lord to “hide me in the shadow of your wings from the wicked men who do me violence.” In Psalm 57, David asks to take refuge in the shadow of His wings till the storms of destruction pass by. Jesus Himself laments over wayward Jerusalem in Matthew 23, because they refused to come to Him when he sought to gather them under His wings.

Verse 4 continues by describing God’s protection over His people, not just as a tender parent but also as a fierce man of war. The faithfulness of God is called a shield and a buckler—armor that a warrior uses when he engages in hand-to-hand combat. God’s covenant faithfulness is a shield to His people against the attacks of the enemy, and He stands ready in their defense.

Verses 5-6 list 4 fearsome threats common to man: the terror of night, the arrow in daylight, the pestilence in darkness, and the destruction that wastes at noonday.

Sometimes we face the terror of night—the unknown fears that stalk in darkness as we try to sleep. Spurgeon writes, “Our fears turn the sweet season of repose into one of dread… Blessed is that communion with God which renders us impervious to midnight frights and horrors born of darkness.” Matthew Henry writes that even in our homes on our beds, we can be plagued by the fear of unknown or unseen threats. I’ll confess that I tend toward an anxious heart, and have spent too many nighttime hours fretting over imagined noises and invisible attackers. In the last week or two, I’ve prayed through portions of this very psalm to help calm my jangled nerves.

There are also threats that may surprise us in the noonday sun; this is described as the arrow in daylight: Perhaps, like me, you are burdened when you hear stories of brazen, daylight violence. Even in broad daylight, we are not able to fully secure ourselves. The arrow in daylight describes the indiscriminate and unpredictable violence of men. In the day of danger, however, God can certainly deliver us from fear. Matthew Henry: “Wisdom shall keep you from being causelessly afraid, and faith shall keep you from being inordinately afraid. You shall not be afraid of the arrow, knowing that though it may hit you, it cannot hurt you. If it take away the natural life, yet it shall be so far away from doing any prejudice to the spiritual life that it shall [instead] be its perfection… It is also under divine direction, and will hit where God appoints and not otherwise. Every bullet has its commission. Whatever is done, our Heavenly Father’s will is done; and we have no reason to be afraid of that.”

To be clear, thinking about God’s sovereignty should in no way create in us a numb sort of fatalism. That’s not what Matthew Henry is describing here. But we can only be helped when we meditate on the fact that the God who determines the end from the beginning has numbered our days in his book, as it says in Psalm 139. There is nothing in all of creation that can thwart the plans of God for his people, so we can live prudently but confidently in that reality.

The pestilence in darkness and the destruction that wastes at noonday together describe the full spectrum of diseases and plagues known in the ancient world—those that lurk in both cold and heat. It’s amazing how simple and yet profound these descriptions are: we still face diseases that seem to survive better in either cold and damp climates or hot and humid ones. God’s people have always lived in a world stricken by disease, from leprosy to the Black Plague to cholera and typhoid and influenza. There have been countless illnesses in the world before COVID-19 ever showed up, and if the Lord tarries, there will be countless more after it. Spurgeon writes that “those choice souls who dwell in God shall live above fear in the most plague-stricken places—they shall not be afraid of the plagues which in the darkness walk.”

This doesn’t mean that we as God’s people should be careless or flippant about real threats of illness. The Westminster Assembly of the mid-17th century noted that we must not assume or presume the righteous are always exempted from times of plague or pestilence—that would be a “rash judgment” in the context of this passage. Martin Luther, when asked by a friend to provide recommendations regarding how to conduct oneself during a time of plague, basically said to take appropriate precautions (wash your clothes, air out your house, minimize your interactions with others to that which is needful, and stay at home if you get sick) and then trust the Lord’s will without fear. The German theologian Andreas Muesel said that those who dismiss concerns about the threat of plague are neither kind nor pious, and that doing so dishonors the blessings of divine protection from illness.

Nor should we interpret this passage as implying that illness is no big deal, even if we are faced with it. It’s appropriate and natural to be saddened by a debilitating illness or a cancer diagnosis. Jesus Himself was moved with compassion for the suffering of others. The key here is to see all of these things in light of God’s sovereign will for our lives as His children. I don’t say that flippantly, but hopefully. In the midst of our tears, we can have that “calm courage” that all things do actually work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

It would be tempting to take some of these verses out of context and claim them as a promise of divine immunity against all disease, and there are those in the world who might seek to deceive people with that kind of promise. We should be careful not to follow the footsteps of Job’s foolish advisors who argued that nothing bad should ever befall the righteous!

Instead, I think there are two keys to help us understand this section rightly: the first key is the first phrase of verse 5: “You will not fear.” This is the deliverance that the people of God are promised in this passage: not just from evil, but from the fear of evil. Paul Carter writes that verses 3-6 don’t say we won’t have to face trouble—Jesus Himself tells us otherwise in John 16—but rather we don’t have to fear trouble, because the faithfulness of God means we won’t be abandoned to trouble.

I think the second key to understanding this passage is found in the next 2 verses, verses 7-8. Even if there is destruction all around us, it will not come near us. Joseph Caryl writes that “the power of God can bring us near to danger yet keep us from harm.” Matthew Henry writes that “if people around us die in a plague, we can prepare ourselves for death but the fear of it need not come over us.”

In Hebrews 2:15, the author of Hebrews says that Jesus came to “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” In times of unrest, in times of plague, in times of war, the greatest fear of natural man is the fear of death. You can see it all over our culture today.

Perhaps you’re here this morning or watching online and you’re not a follower of Jesus–you’ve never turned from your sin and trusted in Him for salvation. If that’s you, I’ve very glad you’re listening, because I need you to understand something really, really important: the greatest threat to you is not the threat of disease or violence. It’s not even physical death. The greatest threat you face is what comes after death. The Bible says that it’s appointed for man once to die and then to face judgment. On that day of judgment, you will have to stand before God the Righteous Judge and account for your sin against His holy Law. Standing on your own meager merits, you will fall shamefully short of His righteous standard, and you will have to face the just and holy wrath of God. BUT there is hope for you. Jesus, the Son of God, stepped out of eternity and humbled Himself to be born as a man, lived a perfect life of complete obedience to God’s Law, and then died as a sacrifice to pay the penalty for sin—taking our guilt and punishment upon Himself and satisfying the debt we owe for our sin. Then on the third day, Jesus was raised from the dead, demonstrating that His sacrifice was sufficient to rescue us from God’s wrath. Now, for all who turn from their sin and in faith put their full trust on the work of Jesus to rescue them, His perfect standing before God is credited to our bankrupt account. We no longer have to fear the condemnation of God for our sin, for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of Life has set us free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.

So now we can look to verse 8 and see that the judgment of the wicked does not touch those who have been redeemed by God. David writes in Psalm 37: “Wait for the LORD and keep his way, and He will exalt you to inherit the land; you will look on when the wicked are cut off.” Each one of us deserves that judgment, and outside of the grace of God in Christ Jesus, that would be our fate. But, for those of use who have been rescued by Him, we will only look on at a destruction that can never touch us. When we read in this section about snares and terrors, arrows and plagues, we will not be afraid, because our greatest enemies have already been defeated, and all that happens in our life now flows through the hand of our Father in Heaven.

Let’s look now at the protection that God provides His people in verses 9-13.

3 – God’s Protection (v. 9-13)

Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
    the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
    no plague come near your tent.

11 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.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder;
    the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

See the assurance that the believer has in verses 9-10: Those who make their home and refuge in God are protected from evil befalling them, from the plague coming near their tent.

  • All this discussion of plagues and judgment recalls to mind the plagues God visited upon Egypt in the book of Exodus—and no verse seems to indicate this more clearly than verse 10. Just as the people of God in the land of Goshen in Egypt were spared the affects of the judgment upon the Egyptians, including the final plague of the Death Angel killing the firstborn of Egypt, so here the psalmist says that those who call the Most High God their refuge will be protected from the destroyer. Christian, no matter what happens in your life, no evil will befall you.
  • The Puritan writer Thomas Watson clarified, “God does not say no afflictions shall befall us, but no evil.”
  • The early church father John Chrysostom: “Faith is endangered by security, but secure in the midst of danger.”
  • Matthew Henry: “Trouble and affliction may come as part of God’s will for us, and they are not ‘evil’ to us; though in the moment, it may be grievous, in the end it will bear fruit.”
  • Spurgeon puts it beautifully: “It is impossible that any ill should happen to the man who is beloved of the Lord; the most crushing calamities can only shorten his journey and hasten him to his reward. Ill to him is no ill, but only good in mysterious form. Losses enrich him, sickness is his medicine, reproach is his honor, death is his gain. No evil—in the strictest sense of the word—can happen to him, for everything is overruled for good. Happy is he who is in such a case. He is secure where others are in peril; he lives where others die.”
  • It’s in this context that we can know that even the “calamities” of this life are blessings. As the hymn writer William Cowper wrote, “Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face.”

Verses 11-13 may be particularly familiar to us, as they are partially quoted by Satan during his temptation of Jesus in the desert in Matthew 4 and Luke 4. Let’s look at them in detail here and then consider how they are used in the New Testament.

  • First, we see here plainly that God commands his angels to watch over His people. We’re not told in Scripture that we are each assigned one particular angel to watch out for us. This isn’t the charming and childlike Clarence of “It’s A Wonderful Life” or the cherry-cheeked cherubs depicted in popular culture. These spiritual guardians are His warriors, His servants, and like all faithful servants they desire to shift the focus back to their master’s work. They are emissaries of God’s presence, ministering spirits who protect and watch over His children in His name.
  • In writing about the ministry of angels, William Bridge says God’s angels never fail to obey their master. They do not consider our care to be “beneath” them, and they likely protect us from more threats than we even realize.
  • Verse 11 says they are tasked with guarding us “in all [our] ways.” The implication here is that we are walking in the way of faithfulness, as has been described thusfar in the chapter. Again, William Bridge writes: “Your ways are to be God’s ways, the way commanded by God. If you be out of God’s ways, you are out of your own way; if you be in ‘your way,’ the angels shall keep you, even in time of plague, and bear you up in their hands that you dash not your foot against a stone. But if you be out of your way, I shall not insure your safety… You may expect the Lord’s protection and the angel’s attendance if you be in your way, but not else.”
  • Indeed, we hear echoes of these promises in Proverbs 3:19-26 – that the way of wisdom (which begins with the Fear of the Lord!) will give us boldness and sure footing.
  • Verse 12 says the angels will “bear us up” on their hands—the image here might be of a nursemaid or governess, guarding the wellbeing of the little ones entrusted to her. We see that angelic care is in all circumstances, even down to the smallest details—care that we may not stumble against a stone.
  • In a sermon on this section of Psalm 91, Spurgeon argued that “all our ways” does not include a path of presumption, sin, worldliness, pride, doctrinal error, or the like—that we may find ourselves stumbling along those wicked ways (and often that is a gracious thing, to call us back to obedience). Rather, we can walk in security when we have humble faith in Jesus, obedience to His commands, childlike trust in the Father, and a life devoted to holiness and watchfulness. All things are thus on our side because God has commanded our protection. We travel as with a royal guard, the servants of the Most High King surrounding us. As such, we should also gladly do the “angelic” work of watching over and caring for our fellow believers.
  • Verse 13 contains an unusual promise—that God’s people will tread upon the lion and the adder unharmed. This could be taken a few different ways. Some point to times of literal physical protection from these creatures (such as Daniel in the lion’s den, or Paul on the island of Malta). Others point to passages like Psalm 58, which describe the wicked as lions and serpents. Still others point to Luke 10:19, arguing that these creatures are actually symbolic of demonic spiritual forces. To be honest, I think all of these interpretations have merit. As John MacArthur notes, the lion and the adder are a metaphor for all sorts of deadly attacks from which the Lord can shield His people.

Now, I had mentioned this passage in relation to the Temptation of Jesus—let’s take a quick look over at that before moving on. Here’s what we see in Matthew 4:5-7:

Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’

and

“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
    lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

I want you to notice 3 things here:

  • First, notice that Satan leaves out a key phrase: “in all your ways.” As we’ve noted previously, there is a clear implication that the promise of angelic overwatch is given to those who are walking in the way of the Lord—it’s not a blanket “Get-Out-of-Gravity-Free” card for anyone who wants to claim it. To treat it as such is to misapply the verse and pull it out of context.
  • Second, notice that Satan stops at verse 12. Why? Because verse 13 may also contain within it a promise of his eventual downfall. Satan is described in the New Testament both as a lion and as a serpent—and the promise of God from way back in Genesis 3 is that the seed of the woman (the promised Messiah, whom we know now is Jesus) would crush the head of the serpent! Not only that, but because we as Christians are in Christ, we share in His inheritance (Romans 8:17), including His victory over the enemy! In Romans 16:20, Paul writes that “the God of Peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
  • Third, notice how Jesus responds to Satan’s temptation—not by correcting his mangling of the Scriptural text but by recognizing the real root of that temptation: putting God to the test. This is instructive to us as we read and apply Psalm 91. These comforting promises of God are not given so that we can abuse them as His people, making foolish decisions and living reckless lives. Rather, they are given as an encouragement to us so that, as we seek to live in the world “not as unwise, but as wise,” we can rest in the assurance that the Lord’s care for His people extends to the ministry of His holy angels.

Finally, we see in Psalm 91 that God not only provides His presence, His peace, and His protection, but also His promises for our future.

4 – God’s Promises (v.14-16)

14 “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.”

The psalm closes with a series of promises God makes to His faithful people. If nothing else so far has been an encouragement to you, this surely will be.

God pronounces blessing upon those who know His name, set their love upon Him (or cling to Him), and call upon Him. But even here, we see the matchless grace of God: we don’t do those things on our own. In Deuteronomy 7, God describes how He chose Israel, and then in chapter 10, He says that He set His heart on Israel to be His covenant people. In the New Testament, in John 15, Jesus tells His disciples that they didn’t choose Him, but He chose them and appointed them to bear much fruit. In I John 4:19, John writes we love God because He first loved us! So when we see these precious promises of God, given to those who know and love Him, we can rest assured that the only reason we know God’s name and call upon Him in faith is because He Himself is drawing us, redeeming us, keeping us.

So what does He promise His children in these last 3 verses? Six things:

  • He will deliver us and protect us: As we’ve already noted, that doesn’t mean a trouble-free life—in His providence, God may carry us through some challenging and even devastating experiences. But He promises that He will rescue us, and that He will preserve us.
  • He will answer us: Spurgeon reminds us that we should marvel at the fact that the very God of the universe not only listens to us, but responds at all! As Matthew Henry notes, God responds to our prayers and requests with promises to hold onto, providences to meet our needs, and graces to help us endure.
  • He will be with us in trouble: Pointing back to the first section, we are reminded that God gives us His own dear presence “to shield and to guide.”
  • He will rescue and honor us: He not only delivers us from danger, but will honor us. The way of this world is to chase after your own honor, to elevate your own name. Jesus said in John 12:26 that those who serve Him will be honored by the Father.
  • He will satisfy us with long life: Long life was a specific promise to OT saints for obedience to the Law, and the prophets describe it as a blessing of the Future Millenial or Messianic Kingdom (Isaiah 65:20). This phrase may also be translated “fullness of life” or “fullness of days.” This speaks to a satisfaction at the end of one’s life. One more Spurgeon quote: “The man described in this psalm fills out the measure of his days, and whether he dies young or old, he is quite satisfied with life and is content to leave it. He shall rise from life’s banquet as a man who has had enough and is content.” Or, as Paul put it, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
  • Finally, he will show us His salvation: To see God’s salvation in the Old Testament was to look toward the resolution of all things, when God finally and fully delivers His people from all their enemies. That deliverance would come in the person of the promised Messiah. Remember Simeon in Luke 2, who took up the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God for letting him live long enough to see “His salvation.” Now, we who live under the New Covenant and have placed our hope in the death and resurrection of Jesus also look forward to His Second Coming, the restoration of all things, and our final home in that new city, the one not made with human hands, where God will dwell among His people.

All of these other promises point us to that final, beautiful day, because all of these promises flow through and are ministered by Jesus our savior.

These now are the great and glorious provisions that our God has made for us in this time of pandemic. He has provided us with His presence, His peace, His protection, and His promises.

And my prayer for us as we face whatever comes next in this crazy year is that we will rest on the sure and settled declaration of our God that He will show us His salvation. Until that day, let us walk in faith, hope, and love as we anticipate His coming.

Amen! Come Lord Jesus. Let’s pray.

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Thanks for reading. I hope this sermon encourages you and challenges you. If you have questions about anything you’ve read here, please feel free to comment below!

Sunday Sermon: “God is Faithful in Every Season” (Psalm 71)

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This week, I wanted to share the transcript of a sermon I preached about a month ago at a nearby Baptist church–a church that my home church is considering merging with in the near future. That congregation is made of mostly older adults (as opposed to our church of mostly young families), so this sermon provided a unique opportunity to focus my message to their particular church family. I hope it encourages you.

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Greetings from the believers at Baptist Church of the Redeemer. It is a privilege to be back here with you, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. Our text for the morning is Psalm 71, so please turn there if you haven’t already.

It didn’t occur to me until it was pointed out by one of our elders that I would be the first man up after your pastor’s retirement last Sunday—no pressure! But as I was considering what to preach today, I realized that what I wanted to do most was to encourage you that our God is faithful in every season of our lives and every season of the life of our churches. My prayer is that you will see this clearly today.

If you are taking notes, you can break this sermon down into 3 sections: 1- The Security of God’s Protection (v. 1-6); 2- The Testimony of God’s Faithfulness (v. 7-16); and 3- The Witness of God’s People in their Later Years (v.17-24).

Number One: The Security of God’s Protection (v.1-6)

Let’s take a look at the first 6 verses of Psalm 71.

In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame!
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
    incline your ear to me, and save me!
Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come;
you have given the command to save me,
    for you are my rock and my fortress.

Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
    from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.
For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

While this psalm is not directly attributed to David in a notation (as other psalms are), it does mirror the language of other psalms of David, which leads commentators to think that it was likely penned by David, sometime between the middle and (more likely) latter years of his life.

Notice right off the bat the personal language here: God is not some distant and unapproachable being. No, David proclaims that YHWH, the Lord God of Israel, is his refuge, his fortress, his God. He calls on the faithful, covenant-keeping God to uphold him in the face of wicked men and enemies who want to see him fall.

David asks God to deliver him because of God’s own righteousness—for the sake of God’s own name. We see this later in the history of Israel when God tells his wayward and rebellious people in Isaiah 48 that He will preserve them and deliver them for His own glory, even though they’ve broken His law. How often do we deserve God’s righteous punishment for sin, and yet because of His great kindness and mercy, He holds back from letting us be destroyed?

Look particularly at verses 5 and 6.

For you, O Lord, are my hope,
    my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;
    you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.
My praise is continually of you.

Consider for a moment David’s history: before he was a king, he was a shepherd boy who defended the flock against a lion and a bear. He was the brave young man who faced down the taunts of a giant in front of two standing armies. He withstood the jealous rage of King Saul, who sought repeatedly to take David’s life because he was anointed to be king over Israel instead of Saul’s son, Jonathan. Surely when David says the Lord is his hope and his trust ever since his youth, he’s thinking of these events and more!
Beyond that, though, David says that God was there from before his birth—that it was God who “delivered” him by His providence from the darkness of the womb. As Spurgeon writes, God has been faithful to David since before he was born. God knows who are His, and He cares for them. In the perilous hour of birth, God is present and cares for both mother and child.

Spurgeon goes on to call us to consider that childbirth is a daily miracle! Although each person fulfills their assigned role (the mother, the doctor, the midwife or nurse), yet it is God who carries us out of darkness and into light. What a beautiful metaphor this is for salvation. As Jesus told Nicodemus during their late-night conversation, you must be born again if you are to see the kingdom of God—born of the Spirit. While God does use human beings as his means of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation, it is God who brings us from death to life, God Himself who is the author of salvation. As Jonah proclaimed from the belly of the great fish, salvation belongs to the Lord!

So how do we respond to such gracious Divine care, from the very beginning of our existence? In Matthew Henry’s commentary, he writes about this section: “The consideration of the gracious care which the Divine Providence took of us in our birth and infancy should engage us to an early piety and constant devotedness to His Honor. He that was our help from our birth ought to be our hope from our youth. If we received so much mercy from God before we were capable of doing Him any service, we should lose no time [now that] we are capable.” In other words, as soon as we can consider God’s faithfulness to us from the earliest moment of existence, it should compel us to love Him and follow Him in all things. How can we respond any other way?

If you’re here today, and you don’t follow Jesus, first, I’m glad you’re here. And I want you to think on these things: God has given you life, breath, and all good things. Yet, because we are born rebels, we break God’s law as soon as we are able to do so. We are, all of us, sinners by nature and choice. Because of this, we are all deserve God’s righteous condemnation. Yet, because God is patient and merciful, he didn’t destroy us instantly, but instead has provided a way for sinners like you and me to be declared not-guilty, washed clean, and made brand new—and this is only through Jesus, the Son of God, wholly God and wholly man, who lived the perfect life we couldn’t live, and then died in our place, paying the penalty of our sin, fully satisfying God’s righteous wrath against us, and 3 days later, rising to life again, demonstrating that Jesus is Lord and King over all things, including death, and that His sacrifice satisfies the just judgment of God.
If this good news of Jesus is something new to you, or if you want to find out more about it, please come talk to me after the service.

Let’s look at the next section.

Section Two – The Testimony of God’s Faithfulness in All of Life (v. 7-16)

I have been as a portent to many,
    but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.
Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
    forsake me not when my strength is spent.
10 For my enemies speak concerning me;
    those who watch for my life consult together
11 and say, “God has forsaken him;
    pursue and seize him,
    for there is none to deliver him.”

12 O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all the day,
    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
    I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

 

Notice in verse 7, David says he has been a “portent” to many. Your Bible may translate that a bit differently; some versions may say “sign” or “marvel” or “wonder.” All these words point to the fact that this believer in the one true God is a bit astonishing to the people around him. In fact, God’s people are always going to be distinct, strange, perhaps even a bit unsettling to nonbelievers. “You mean, you actually believe all that? You really think that God is there and listens to you? You’re willing to do what? To go where? Are you crazy?” Peter writes in I Peter 2 that the church is to be a people of God’s own possession—or as the King James translates it, a “peculiar” people. In I Corinthians 4, Paul writes that God uses the righteous persecution faced by the apostles as a spectacle for the world, for men, and for angels—a testimony to all who see them of the power of the Gospel. Or, as Paul would say later in II Corinthians 2, those who are following Jesus bear the aroma of death to the unbelieving world. The church stands as a proclamation of God’s great mercy to those who would be saved, but a proclamation of God’s coming judgment to those who refuse to turn from sin and believe in Jesus.

How does David respond to God being his refuge against those who gawk at him? In verse 8, he says that his mouth is filled with God’s praise and glory all day long. Verses like this challenge me to ask: what is my mouth filled with? More pointedly, what is my social media profile filled with? Is it praise to God, or anxious worry and frustrated clamor? (Should I save that question until after November?) There is no room for murmuring or backbiting when your mouth is full of praise. As James says in James 3, a fresh spring shouldn’t produce salt water.

Take a look at verse 9 and following. [read 9-11] David is asking God not to abandon him in his twilight years. In Charles Spurgeon’s “Treasury of David,” a rich commentary on the Psalms, Spurgeon reminds us that the world casts off its elderly, but God never does; even those who are weary and infirmed are held fast. If we look later in Israel’s history, to the prophecy of Isaiah in Isaiah 46:3-4, we hear God’s reassurance to the remnant He will save from His people Israel that He will not change—from birth to death, He will still be their God.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

(Isaiah 46:3-4)

David’s cry to God is that He would not abandon His servant in the twilight years. He says that his enemies are surrounding him, waiting for God to abandon him. This is sometimes the way of this sinful world—godless men try to prey upon older folks, to stoke their fears, to deceive, to try to get them to slip up. David here expresses a concern that many people have. But look how David responds, after pouring out those concerns to God.

12 O God, be not far from me;
    O my God, make haste to help me!
13 May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
    with scorn and disgrace may they be covered
    who seek my hurt.
14 But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more.
15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all the day,
    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
    I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

David prays like a child in the dark, reaching for His father’s hand—and I don’t think there’s one of us who is too old to do that: to call out to our Father in need and desperation, trusting him to answer. David asks His Father to turn the accusations, attack, and shame back on those who would do him harm. Rather than being crippled by worry about the threats of his enemies, David says in verse 14 that he will choose to hope in God and praise Him more and more! Instead of giving in to fear, David defies those who seek his destruction by doing what? Proclaiming God’s faithfulness. Testifying of what he has experienced of God’s salvation and righteous works. Their number, he says, is beyond calculation.

I love verse 16: “With the mighty deeds of the Lord God, I will come.” David brings his testimony of God’s power and faithfulness into battle—his greatest weapon is praise. He carries the testimony of God wherever he goes. And don’t miss this—what he’s bringing isn’t human wisdom or philosophy, but the pure testimony of someone who has experienced firsthand what God does for His people.

I have to stop here and remind you: Church, you have that, too. You have a story. You have a testimony of how Jesus died on the cross to save you from your sin, how He brought you from death to life, how He made you a new creation. You have testimonies of how God has been faithful time and time and time again. No matter what the world brings against you, no matter what the Enemy accuses you with, no matter how age or sickness or suffering may try to take away your hope—you come bearing the mighty deeds of the Lord God. Don’t forget that. He has done great things among us.

In preparing for this sermon, I was reminded of the story of an early church martyr named Polycarp. This was around 155 AD, under the Roman emperor Trajan. Polycarp was an old man, perhaps in his late 80’s to mid-90’s, who was still serving as the Bishop of Smyrna (a coastal city in what is now modern-day Turkey). He had been a friend and student of Ignatius, another church leader who had been martyred some years earlier. It happened that a group of believers who had been rounded up, had refused to deny Jesus, and were put to death had infuriated the bloodthirsty pagan mob because of how they boldly proclaimed Jesus was Lord, all the way to the end. The mob then cried out for Polycarp to be arrested and killed—he was known in that region as being a pastor and church leader. Polycarp’s congregation urged him to hide from the Roman soldiers, but after several close calls, he turned himself in. The Roman official gave Polycarp a chance to recant, since he was so advanced in years. The official said, “Just say ‘Away with the athiests!’ and you can be released.” The Romans called the Christians “athiests” because they denied Roman gods. Polycarp then turned to the Roman crowd and shouted “Away with the athiests!” After this, he was told to curse Christ and swear by the emperor, and he would be freed. Here’s how Polycarp responded: “For 86 years I have served Him, and He has done me no evil. How can I curse my King who saved me?” The Romans threatened Polycarp with being burned at the stake, and he responded that this fire will last a moment, but the fire of Hell is eternal. As he was about to be burned, Polycarp prayed aloud, thanking God that he was deemed worthy to join the martyrs and suffer with Jesus.

An old man—a man that the world would have passed over without a thought—stood firm and proclaimed the mighty deeds of God, and his testimony still rings out almost two thousand years later.

Let’s move on to the final part of the psalm.

Section 3 – The Witness of God’s People in Their Later Years (v. 17-24)

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp
    for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
    O Holy One of Israel.
23 My lips will shout for joy,
    when I sing praises to you;
    my soul also, which you have redeemed.
24 And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,
for they have been put to shame and disappointed
    who sought to do me hurt.

 

Again, David recalls God’s faithfulness throughout his life and asks God not to forsake him, so that he can proclaim God’s might to the next generation. See, David understands that in his later years, he still has a mission to complete. I think this is the same mission for all of us, when we reach this stage of life: our responsibility as followers of Jesus is to proclaim the goodness of God to those coming after us.

As we see so many fall away over the years of their lives, we must marvel in gratitude over God’s preserving grace as we grow older. Those whom God saves, God keeps to the end. David had seen what happened to Saul when he turned his back on God in disobedience. David’s desire is to continue proclaiming God’s goodness, even as age and infirmity may limit him. He wants to train the next generation to follow God, just as he was trained. This makes it all the more important that older saints never stop being disciples first, and never stop learning all they can about the Scriptures. When you do that, like David, you can delight in God’s righteous character and deeds, as we see in verse 19.

In verse 20, David notes that God has “made [him] see many troubles and calamities.” Because we know that God is sovereign over all details of our lives, we can say with confidence that whatever we have to face in life, we know that God is in control of it. We can further say with Paul in Romans 8 that God is using all of these experiences—even the most painful ones—for His glory and our ultimate good, to make us more like Jesus. So, like David, we can say with confidence that God has brought us through “many dangers, toils, and snares.” But God is still faithful, and he will revive us again. And here’s the thing: there may come a day, if the Lord tarries, that we will each face the final enemy, death. But even then, we can echo David’s words in verse 20: “From the depths of the earth, you will bring me up again.” This is the hope we have as believers in Jesus Christ. Because we have repented of our sins and trusted in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, just as He was raised back to life again, we know with confidence that God will bring us up again from the depths of the earth, and that on the last day, we will be raised to glory.

So how do we respond to these great truths? The way David does: we sing. As one pastor said, “redeemed people are singing people.” When we meditate on how God has been faithful to us since birth, and will be there to carry us when we breathe our last, we can respond with singing, with shouts of praise, and with testifying of God’s help all day long.
This is the exhortation I want to bring to you this morning, College Park: remember what God has done for you; recall His mighty works; look to Him to hold you and guide you into the next chapter of your life as a church; and never stop proclaiming His goodness.

And if I may add, specifically for those of you who are in your later years, who perhaps have known and served the Lord a long time: we need you. We need your faithfulness. We need your testimony. We need your wisdom. I say this for myself, as a man who has been married for less than 6 years, with a toddler and an infant at home: I need your prayer and your counsel. I need to hear your stories of God’s faithfulness.

And whatever happens in the next few months with this potential merger, I want you to know that you, brothers and sisters, are not done by a long shot. God still has work for you to do for His Kingdom and for His glory. So be ready to step into what comes next.

Let me close with one more story: As I was preparing for this sermon, I was using that Matthew Henry commentary, as I noted. It actually belonged to my grandfather. As I was flipping the pages, I found his old American Legion membership card (he served in the Navy during the Korean War). He must have been using it as a bookmark. It made me laugh because I do the same thing with business cards or random scraps of paper. My grandfather was a middle-school teacher by profession, but he was also an ordained Baptist minister. For decades, he and my grandmother would gather a kids’ Sunday School class and Vacation Bible School in the large basement of their home for the local children in the neighborhood who didn’t have any other church influence in their lives. He would pick them up every Sunday morning in their minivan, and then drop them off afterwards. Not only that, but my grandparents were faithful members in their local church and served well into their retirement years. My grandmother still plays piano and organ when she can make it to church. My grandfather eventually developed Parkinsons, which would slowly take his mobility, his speech, and finally his life, a little over a year ago.

I bring this up because as I looked at that American Legion card, I was reminded of a few things that disease and age could not steal from my grandfather. First, illness couldn’t take away his legacy of faithfulness. That card was updated less than 10 years ago—which means that even as he was likely starting to feel the effects of the disease, he was still studying the Scriptures. He was still a disciple. The last time I saw him, a few years ago, even as he had trouble speaking the words, he told me he wanted me to take whatever I wanted from his theological library, to use in my own studies. I relied on his commentaries to help prepare for this sermon. But more than that, all the way to the end, my grandfather was a man of prayer. Over and over, he and my grandmother reminded us that they prayed for us every day. The greatest gift an older saint can give to their family and their church is the gift of prayer.

Brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the faith—pray for those of us who are following behind you. Tell us your testimonies. Proclaim God’s faithfulness to each new generation, so that we all will stand together in wonder, praising our faithful God as one people.