2020: The Year the Lord Has Made.

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The end of December is usually a time of reflection on the past year—and after this year, many of us are perhaps a little skittish at the prospect. I have to admit, I have enjoyed and shared several “2020 is terrible” jokes and memes over the last several months. But a few weeks back, I was reminded of a verse I had memorized as a child:

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Psalm 118:24

As I meditated on this verse, I was reminded that not only did the Lord make “this day,” but He indeed made this week, and month, and even this year. The Bible teaches that the Lord is sovereign over all of human history, seeing the end from the beginning, and nothing takes place outside of His will and divine plan. What’s more, for those of us who are in Christ, all things—ALL things—work together for our good, to shape us into the image of our Savior (Rom. 8:28-30). If all of this is true, then even a year like 2020, checkered as it seems with challenges and even disappointments, has played out as our Lord ordained it to.

This certainly does not mean that it was an easy year. In no way am I minimizing the hardship that 2020 has brought with it. In the last 12 months, most of us have known loss of one sort or another. Many of us have lost family members in death, faced difficult medical diagnoses, struggled with job loss or financial hardship, and wrestled with family conflict.

However, dear friends, the fact remains: this is the year that the Lord has made. And while this year has brought its particular challenges, it has also contained particular blessings.

Thankful

If you don’t mind, I’d like to share a few things I’m thankful for that happened during 2020.

  • My wife and I found out we are expecting our third little girl in early 2021, and couldn’t be happier.
  • I began working from home back in March and have been able to enjoy being with my family every day in a way I didn’t get to in previous years. As a result, my bond with my wife and daughters seems stronger than ever.
  • The number of readers on this little blog of mine have exploded this year, and as a result, I started my first “affiliate link” partnership with the kind folks over at Monk Manual, which has provided some extra income for our household.
  • God has opened other areas of provision that have come at just the right time to take care of unexpected bills.
  • Our church merged with a sister church a few weeks before the initial “shutdown” happened, and somehow we’ve emerged from this difficult season as a stronger body.
  • In addition to serving as an elder in my home church, I’ve had several opportunities to preach at other area churches while their pastors were away or had retired/relocated.

While it’s easy to be dour along with the rest of our culture at this “horrible year,” I would challenge you (and myself) to change how we think about and speak about the past year. Though the world would say there is little to consider good about 2020, that’s just not true. Despite it all, God has indeed been good to us—we just need to take the time to see it.

The Choice to Rejoice

Psalm 118:24 affirms that the Lord has made this day, and then follows with the exhortation, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is one of those reminders in Scripture that joy is not only a gift of God and a fruit of the Spirit, but it is also a choice. The psalmist calls to the faithful and encourages them to make the choice to rejoice and be glad in this day of the Lord’s making.

While this verse is written within a specific context (which we will examine shortly), it’s worthwhile to pause and consider: Are there times when I can make the decision to rejoice, in spite of my circumstances? Again, this does not imply a “Pollyanna” sort of naïve blindness to the difficulties of life. Scripture reminds us that Jesus Himself was a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3). He is sympathetic with our weakness and our suffering.

Yet Paul also reminds us (from a Roman prison cell) in Philippians 4:4 to “rejoice in the Lord always—again, I will say, rejoice”! There don’t seem to be any exceptions in that word “always.” Rather, Paul gives—and repeats—this command. If these are commands from the Lord (and they are), then we will be enabled to obey them by the strength the Lord provides. Indeed, “the joy of the Lord is your strength!” (Neh. 8:10). We can call on the Holy Spirit to help us obey this command and rejoice in what the Lord has done, no matter what circumstances we face.

Thus, when we consider this year that the Lord has made, friends, we can and should choose joy. By the grace of God, we should fight to rejoice and be glad in it. Why? Because the Lord made it, and He has used it and is using it for our good and His glory (Rom. 8:28-29).

“His Steadfast Love Endures Forever”

One of the ways we can move toward joy is by recounting how the Lord has been faithful (as we just did earlier). This is clear in the first 18 verses of Psalm 118. The psalmist calls on God’s people to confess together the steadfast love of the Lord, and then recounts specific incidents in which God has shown Himself gracious.

The Lord is a rescuer (v. 5-6), a helper (v. 7), a refuge (v. 8-9), and our victory (v. 10-12). He will keep us from stumbling (v. 13), be our salvation (v. 14), and do valiantly for us (v. 15-16). Even in His discipline of us, He does not give us over to death (v. 18).

In verse 19, the psalmist asks the Lord to “open the gates of righteousness,” and this begins not only the section in which our key verse is found, but it points us to the greatest good that the Lord bestows on His people—a good that we have been celebrating in this Christmas season.

The fact is, there is nothing coming from us that is innately righteous. “There is none righteous; no, not one” (Rom. 3:10). On our own merits, even at our best, the “gates of righteousness” should be slammed shut in our faces. And yet, God has made a way for us to enter these righteous gates, through the work of His son Jesus, our Redeemer.

Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus

Do you recognize the language of verses 22-23?

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the Cornerstone. This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” (Ps. 118:22-23)

This passage would later be quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21 and Peter in I Peter 2—both describing the ministry of Jesus the Messiah! He was the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” for those who would not believe, but the rock of salvation for all who would call on His name!

If you keep reading in Psalm 118, you’ll also find these words in verse 26: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” These were the very words spoken by the people during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem at the end of His ministry.

Then, verse 27: “The Lord is God, and He made His light to shine upon us.” Or perhaps, as John would put it in his gospel: “In [Jesus] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Psalm 118 ultimately points forward to the coming of God’s Messiah, the Deliverer who would bless His people and bring them joy and success, a living demonstration of the steadfast love of God. And the coming of that Messiah would be “the day that the Lord has made,” a day worthy of rejoicing!

And what happened when that day arrived? John again tells us: “…light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil…” (John 3:19). Jesus the Messiah stepped into human history, a miracle baby in a manger in a small village. He lived the perfect life of righteousness that God’s Law demands of mankind. He taught the true words of God, did miracles, healed disease, cast out demons, and brought light into our darkness. And the response of the people was to slander Him falsely and deliver Him up for torture and execution.

But even that day was the day that the Lord had made, for it was only through that dark day that our redemption would be accomplished! Because Jesus our Savior was crucified in the place of ruined sinners, He became our vicarious substitute, bearing the full weight of God’s wrath and justice against sin, so that we who believe in Him might be declared righteous before God, one day entering the righteous gates of the New Jerusalem, “dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless to stand before the throne” (as the hymn goes).

The deliverance of God was made manifest on the darkest of days, a day we call “Good” Friday, because that unfathomable suffering brought us cleansing. It brought us hope. It brought us joy.

The suffering of our Savior was the day of our deliverance. Let us also rejoice and be glad in that day!

Look Back in Gratitude, Look Forward In Hope

The year 2020 is coming to a close, friends. Admittedly, it did not follow any of our plans or hopes for what would transpire. But nevertheless, this was the year that the Lord has made. Let us choose to rejoice and be glad in it—glad in what the Lord has done among us, glad in what the Lord has taught us, glad in how the Lord has shown Himself always faithful, and glad in the knowledge that we have hope because the Lord ordained the darkest of days 2000 years ago as the day of our salvation, for all who repent and believe on Jesus Christ.

Happy New Year! Be blessed this day, and rejoice, my friends! Rejoice!

“The Wrong Kind of Thanksgiving” (Luke 18:9-14)

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The following is the text of a sermon I had the privilege to preach at Cornerstone Community Church in Montgomery, TX on November 22nd of this year. Even though it’s a bit late for the Thanksgiving holiday, I hope it blesses you anyway. Thanks.

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When I started thinking about what I wanted to study and preach on this week, I couldn’t help but think about the upcoming holiday: no, not the A&M-LSU game. Thanksgiving.

Now, I’ll admit, folks: normally, in my family, we start our Christmas holiday decorations and celebration on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, but we’ve had our tree and lights up for over a week already (partly because my 3 year old is OBSESSED with Christmas lights). It seemed appropriate in a challenging year to spend some extra time celebrating the coming of Jesus to dwell among us. But I recognize that doing so gives short shrift to Thanksgiving, so I started thinking about what passages might be appropriate for the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

And for some reason (the providence of God, ultimately), I landed on Luke 18. If you’ve looked at the passage already, you know that this is…not exactly what you’d call a “Thanksgiving” passage—and I agree, it’s a bit of a stretch. But I think it’s what I needed to hear, so I suspect some of you may benefit as well.

Today, we’re looking at the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. And it’s a story that has something to teach us about how we should—or rather, how we should NOT—give thanks.

Here’s the big idea we will consider this morning: True thanksgiving – true Christian thanksgiving – begins with a recognition that, if we are in Christ, we have not gotten what we deserve for our sin, but have instead gotten what we do not deserve. We deserved judgment, but received mercy. We earned wrath, but were given grace. True thanksgiving from the heart is fueled by this fundamental reality.

Let’s look at the text: Luke 18-9-14. I’ll read it in its entirety and then we’ll take a look at it verse by verse.

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Luke describes this story as a parable (the stories that Jesus told that taught spiritual truths using symbols and veiled language that could only be discerned by those given “eyes and ears” to do so). But this is less of a parable and more of a straightforward (if likely fictitious) description of 2 mindsets or approaches to worship.

Setting the Scene (v. 9-10)

Notice from the very beginning that Luke clues us in on EXACTLY what Jesus is doing here. This isn’t like some of Jesus’ other parables or stories where he has to decode for us what He means. He is speaking plainly, and both we and his original hearers knew what he was getting at. If anything, what Luke gives us here is a peek into the hearts of the hearers more than the point of the parable. Notice that he describes these people 2 ways: “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” and “treated others with contempt.” As we will see, these two traits are connected, with one often flowing into the other. While there are other applications to be made with this parable, Jesus’ primary target audience thought they were as holy as they needed to be, and that somehow God owed something to them for their good works.

Jesus sets the scene in verse 10: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” They went up to the temple because the temple in Jerusalem was built on a hill. That’s why we see some psalms are called Songs of Ascent—they were literally sung by pilgrims who travelled to Jerusalem to ascend the temple mount for yearly sacrifices and feasts of worship. So these 2 men went up to the temple.

They went up to pray because it was at the Temple where they believed their prayers would be heard. In I Kings 8:27-30, when Solomon dedicated his temple to God on this spot, he prayed that it would be a place where God’s name and heart will rest, so that His servants may come to this place to pray and he would hear and forgive them. God responded in the next chapter (9:1-3) that His eyes and heart would be there for all time. In Isaiah 56:7, the Lord says, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” So it was at the temple that faithful Jews believed God would be most attentive to their cries.

Consider our two characters: the Pharisee and the tax collector. While we in later generations have been trained to eye pharisees with distrust, and to use the term as an insult, remember that, in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees were the theological elite—the trusted theologians, preachers, teachers, highly respected in their community. Contrast them with the tax collectors—Jews who have colluded with their Roman oppressors and collect taxes on their behalf to fund their military war machine. Tax collectors routinely extorted money from their fellow Jews (beyond the already oppressive taxes) and grew rich off the grift. They were held in contempt in their day, the lowest form of scum, because they defied the Mosaic commands against extorting and oppressing their countrymen. Jesus often used social contrasts like this to shock or surprise his audience, in order to reveal truth. Here was no exception, and it would do us good to consider this contrast with fresh eyes. On the one hand, a revered spiritual father and pillar of the community—on the other, a low-life who was distrusted and avoided because he was known (or at least assumed) to take advantage of his poor neighbors to fill his pockets.

But when they open their mouths, everything changes. And it’s here were Jesus shows us the dangers of the wrong kind of thanksgiving.

First, we see the danger of treating others with contempt.

1) Beware Treating Others with Contempt (v. 11)

Notice the Pharisee’s posture: “standing by himself.” Standing was a common prayer posture in that culture, but the implication here was that this man was standing apart from others, not one of the crowd of worshippers. He set himself apart physically—presumably to be seen and/or heard more clearly. Jesus warns about this in the Sermon on the Mount:

“And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.”

Matthew 6:5

Some translations even word verse 11 as such: the Pharisee “while standing, prayed to himself” (which may be more of an editorial comment than a straightforward translation!).

Listen to the opening words of this Pharisee’s prayer (a prayer in which we hear the word “God” used one time and the word “I” used 5 times, by the way): “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.”

The Pharisee “thanks” God by bragging about who he is not—and lists off a handful of notorious sins and sinners (including the tax collector who he likely passed by on his way to the front of the room!). The Pharisee prides himself on not being guilty of gross, scandalous, public sins—yet he doesn’t mention any of what Jerry Bridges called “the respectable sins” like anger, lust, jealousy, greed, or pride. But Scripture is clear that these sins are no more acceptable than others in terms of God’s holiness. Just a few chapters earlier, we see this, in Luke 16:

“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things [Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager], and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

Luke 16:14-15

While Pharisees were careful to keep a holy external appearance, that holiness sometimes didn’t penetrate to their hearts. This is why Jesus also said in the Sermon on the Mount that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and pharisees, we cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Something more than external piety is needed.

The Pharisee had no awareness of his own sin and unworthiness. He judged himself against the worst sins of others—and in a sense used the known (or assumed) sins of those around him to make himself feel even more holy by comparison. It’s almost as if he were glad they were so bad, because it made him look all the better.

The Apostle Paul sternly warns against such judgments in Romans 2:1-5:

Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2:1-5

We should pause in this moment and examine ourselves: have we been guilty of this? Perhaps we have said in our hearts, “God, I thank you that I’m not like this pastor fallen into disgrace, or like that politician surrounded by scandal. I thank you that I am not like those people on Facebook or these people on Twitter. I thank you that I’m wise enough to vote the right way and have the sensible position about pressing social issues and political topics, unlike those with whom I disagree who are being led around by the nose and haven’t thought things through properly.”

The scary thing about this first part of the pharisee’s prayer is that he *is* like those notorious sinners—he’s just as prone to fall into temptation and a snare. And so am I. And so are you. It is only the grace of God that we do not destroy ourselves in our sin.

But let’s keep looking at the pharisee’s speech (I hate to call it a prayer!). Next we see that we should beware trusting in our own righteousness.

2) Beware trusting in your own righteousness. (v. 12)

The Pharisee follows up his favorable self-comparisons by giving evidence of his personal piety: “I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” On the surface, these are laudable actions—actions that go beyond even what the Mosaic law required. The only mandatory fasting day was the yearly Day of Atonement, and the tithe was mainly intended to be from crops/income in order to provide the material needs of the Levites and care for the poor and sojourners. So on the surface, what the Pharisee says should be met with praise. You did pious works; good for you.

But Jesus is never satisfied with mere ritual or surface-level obedience. Again, from His Sermon on the Mount, He says that giving to the needy should be done in secret, and that fasting should be a private act of worship between you and God. Why? Matthew 6:1 says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” That’s the problem with the Pharisee’s prayer. He’s bragging about his piety in order to be seen by others—and worse than that, in order to be acknowledged by God. He’s listing off his religious practices as if to remind God how good he is, while at the same time dismissing the sin that may yet be in his heart. That’s why in Luke 11, Jesus pronounced woe upon Pharisees who “tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.”

What a contrast to Jesus’ teaching in the previous chapter of Luke, in which he states that obedient servants of God should be satisfied that they have simply done their duty!

Such self-confidence also misses the point that our good works fall so immeasurably short of God’s standard—Jesus said we must be perfect! And of course, in our fallen state we cannot be perfect, which is precisely the point. We need a righteousness outside of ourselves, because all our best works are stained by sin. That’s the whole message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—we will never, ever, ever be good enough to earn or maintain our place before God. We have all broken His law and disobeyed His commandments, and we deserve punishment for our offenses against a holy God. But because God is gracious, He sent Jesus to live the perfect life we couldn’t live ourselves, completely fulfilling all of God’s commands and the demands of the Law, and then dying in the place of sinners, to become “sin” for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. The perfect record of Jesus is transferred to sinners who turn to him in repentance, and all of their guilt is put on Jesus, who pays for it all with his precious blood.

If you’re hearing this and you know that you are guilty before God but you have been trying to do good works to make up for it or wash away your stains, listen to me closely: you can’t clean yourself. You can’t pay for your own sin. There’s nothing you can do to take away your shame and guilt. But there’s something that can be done for you. What can wash away your sin? Nothing…but the blood of Jesus.

Let’s turn our attention away from the preening Pharisee to the downcast tax collector in verse 13.

3) Be Humble before the Mercy of God (v. 13)

What a contrast we find here.

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’”

Note the difference in posture: The tax collector stands afar off—not in an area of prominence, possibly trying to avoid other people who are there in the temple court. His hands are not upraised, and his face is not lifted. Perhaps this is an unspoken recognition that he knows he does not have “clean hands” before God. Psalm 24 says, “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”

The tax collector cannot bring himself to look upward to heaven in the normal posture of prayer, but keeps his eyes on the ground, beating his chest in an outward sign of deep sorrow. He prays a prayer of just 7 words (even fewer in the original Greek) but those seven words are powerful and are weighted with importance: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Charles Spurgeon quoted another unnamed pastor who said this prayer is a “holy telegram”—condensed and compact with no unnecessary words. In our hours of desperation, sorrow, and exhaustion, all of the flowery language is stripped away and the cry of our heart is laid bare in its simplest form. And this is the type of cry that we see throughout the gospels would stir the heart of the savior. Jesus seems to have a particular care for tax collectors and outcasts, because those are the type of people he came to rescue: the sick, not the well; sinners, not the righteous.

What does this simple seven-word prayer of the tax collector show us about his faith? Seven key truths:

  1. He knows who God is—perhaps an artifact from his upbringing or just the gracious reminders of God throughout his life that kept the reality of the Judge of all the earth in his mind.
  2. He believes God answers prayer—if not, he wouldn’t be praying.
  3. He recognizes that he must answer to this God for his actions—the tax collector calls on the one to whom he knows he must give an account.
  4. He believes this God is merciful—otherwise a plea for mercy would be pointless.
  5. He believes this God is even merciful to sinners—God does not just show favor to the righteous but to the unrighteous who call out to him.
  6. He confesses that he himself is a sinner who needs God’s mercy—unlike the pharisee, the tax collector has no illusions about his standing before God.
  7. He recognizes that the mercy of God is his only hope for dealing with his sin—in his state of despair, he turns to God in faith, asking for clemency. He doesn’t try to bargain or impress. He doesn’t claim pious deeds as his access to God. He brings only his need and his faith that God will respond.

There is no indication of how the tax collector came under such conviction, but the fruit of the conviction is plain in his demeanor and his prayer.

Do you need to pray this kind of prayer today? You’ve been trying to earn God’s approval with pious activity. You’ve been trying in your own efforts to improve yourself, to be a good person, in the foolish hope that such labors will balance out the ledger in your favor. If that’s you this morning, you need to stop what you’re doing and just come to God in faith. As the old hymn says, “nothing in my hands I bring / simply to the cross I cling.” You’ve got nothing to bring to God. All your best works are infected with sin, until you are given a new heart and new desires and the indwelling of God’s Holy Spirit to work in and through you to do God’s will.

If you need to call out to God in mercy this morning, you’d be in good company. Prayers for mercy are shared throughout the Old Testament, as God’s people call out to Him in faith, asking for His patience, His forgiveness, and His help in times of distress. In Psalm 79, the psalmist Asaph writes, “Do not remember against us our former iniquities; let your compassion come speedily to meet us, for we are brought very low. Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!”

In Daniel 9, Daniel prayed on behalf of his people:

“O Lord, according to all your righteous acts, let your anger and your wrath turn away from your city Jerusalem, your holy hill, because for our sins, and for the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and your people have become a byword among all who are around us. Now therefore, O our God, listen to the prayer of your servant and to his pleas for mercy, and for your own sake, O Lord, make your face to shine upon your sanctuary, which is desolate. O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name.”

Daniel 9:16-19

Notice in both of those examples that the person praying is not telling God how good they are and how much they deserve. They recognize they have nothing to offer and that God’s mercy and forgiveness aren’t owed to them. They also call out that God’s mercy comes from His nature and the point of it is ultimately that it gives Him glory to be merciful to us, and that mercy is for our good as well.

So how does God respond to these 2 prayers? Jesus says the humble tax collector went home justified, rather than the pharisee.

This word “justified” is important. It carries a legal designation of “not guilty”—but there’s more to it than that. The tax collector wasn’t just forgiven of his sins, though he was. He wasn’t just shown mercy—the judgment he deserved being withheld. He was declared righteous before God. To get the full weight of that, we need the rest of the New Testament to flesh out its implications—this parable wasn’t intended to provide us a full theology of justification. But we see pretty clearly in this story a contrast of works-based righteousness versus a righteousness that is received by grace through faith in the God who shows mercy on those who call to Him in repentance.

Paul expounds on these monumental truths in his letters to the Romans and Galatians, among others. That’s why he writes in Romans 3:

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”

Romans 3:21-26

And in Romans 8:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Romans 8:1-4

And in Galatians 2:

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Galatians 2:15-16

I don’t mean to beat this point home more than that, but I think too often we run past this and risk taking it for granted, especially if we have been in the church for a long time. If you are a Christian here this morning, I have to ask you: Have you forgotten what you’ve been saved from? Have you forgotten what that means? If you have repented of your sin and put your full hope and trust in Jesus’ work on the cross, then you are forgiven—declared not guilty—and even declared righteous before God, wrapped in the spotless white robes of Christ. And that’s not even to begin describing the benefits of adoption into God’s family, the inheritance of the saints, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the gradual and inevitable work of that Spirit in sanctifying us to make us like Jesus, and the countless benefits and beauties of knowing God as Father!

Christians, do you remember these precious truths? Do you dwell on them in your thoughts? Do you treasure them away in your heart? Because if you do, you will respond with true and lasting thanksgiving!

Let’s consider Jesus’ summation of the story as we close this morning: “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” The tragedy of this parable is that the Pharisee is so blind to his sinful pride that he goes into the temple and, rather than being forgiven of his sin, heaps more sin and more judgment upon himself, before going away oblivious, thinking he had done his pious duty. The very Law that should have brought him to a place of recognition that he could never stand on his own works before a holy God became a tool that he used to justify himself in comparison to others. And on the last day, when Jesus Christ judges the living and the dead, those who walk in the way of this pharisee will be brought low, while those who humble themselves before the Lord Jesus will be lifted up.

Consider Paul’s words from Romans 10:

Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them [his fellow Jews] is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Romans 10:1-13

If you have received this salvation, then let this Thanksgiving week be a week in which you remember that what you have to be thankful for goes so much deeper than the good gifts of physical provision and the gift of family. Let your thanksgiving well up from a recognition and remembrance of how much you deserve the wrath of God, and how much mercy you have been shown in Christ Jesus.

And let us all heed the warning of Jesus’ parable and humble ourselves before the Lord, so that He may lift us up. If you stand guilty in your sin, call out to him for mercy, in repentance and faith, and He will cleanse you of all unrighteousness, and declare you not-guilty before Him. If you do that, I suspect this Thanksgiving will be a truly joyous one for you as well.

God bless you all in this Thanksgiving season.

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

Photo by Mau00ebl BALLAND on Pexels.com

[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!