Those of you here regularly will know that we are currently working through a sermon series on the Book of Lamentations. However, in my discussions with _______ about baptism, they mentioned Psalm 91 and especially v11 as a particularly meaningful and much loved part of the Bible. And so, it seemed appropriate to pause our sermon series in Lamentations and to consider this Psalm. And in addition, we hope next Sunday to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And this Psalm will also aid us as we prepare to come to the Lord’s table. So let’s read the words of Psalm 91.
Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,
If we were to try and find parts of the Bible more different in tone and content than Lamentations, Psalm 91 would definitely be on that list, and perhaps even right at the top. You just cannot get more of a stark contrast than Lamentations and Psalm 91.
• Lamentations is full of lament about disease and destruction and death, and especially the fact that God brought this disease and destruction and death upon His special OT people, Israel.
• But here in Psalm 91, we read verse after verse about how God will deliver and protect and save His people; that their life will be one of health and well-being and safety.
• But we don’t need to go to Lamentations to see contrast with Psalm 91. Just look at the two Psalms before Psalm 91.
o Psalm 89:38ff talks about God being full of wrath against His anointed. And in v49, the Psalmist asks, “Where is your steadfast love of old?”
o In Psalm 90:9, the Psalmist says, “All our days pass away under your wrath,” and in v10, that the span of our days “it is but toil and trouble.”
And most of us probably more readily identify with L&P89&90. So what are we to make of Psalm 91?
Back in the later part of the 19th century, smoking opium through a pipe was becoming the drug of choice. And opium is an hallucinogenic drug, which means that your mind starts seeing things that are not real as a kind of dream. And that is where the common English phrase ‘a pipe-dream’ comes from. Something that is unreal or just too good to be true is called a pipe dream. So some wonder if Psalm 91 is really just a pipe dream? Given what we read elsewhere in Scripture, they wonder if the Psalmist was being foolishly optimistic in this Psalm?
And even if we trot out the old hoary chestnut of ‘that is the OT but Jesus Christ has come and we are NT believers,’ is there anyone among us who has never known a day of disease, or a time of terror, or loss, or defeat, or trouble? Is there anyone here who would say Psalm 91 pretty much describes my life!? Have you only experienced good health, safety, freedom, and protection from the Lord? Does this Psalm mean that any professing Christian who experiences hardship mustn’t be a true believer?
And given all those questions then, does this Psalm really speak to parents who have presented their child for baptism, and to the child who has been baptised, and to us as we prepare to come to the Lord’s table next Sunday?
Well, it most certainly does. And it does so because in this Psalm, GOD PROMISES BELIEVERS THAT THEY WILL ENJOY ULTIMATE VICTORY. And we see this as we consider the believer’s SECURE SITUATION, the believer’s SAFE SANCTUARY, and the believer’s STRONG SUPPORTER.
I. So first of all then, we see something of the promised, ultimate victory as we consider the believer’s SECURE SITUATION, from vv1-2.
A. You will see above Psalm 90 that we are in BOOK FOUR OF THE PSALMS – Psalms 90-106. Book Three ends with Psalm 89 and we referred to some of the verses of Psalm 89 earlier. It is a Psalm that first speaks about the wonderful covenant that God made with King David. But it ends with questions about the effectiveness of the covenant because it seemed to have failed. Well, Books Four and Five provide answers to those questions. They stress THE REIGN OF THE LORD. Their main message is that even if the monarchy is in trouble the Lord reigns as the true king of His people. So keep that truth in mind as we give our attention now to Psalm 91.
B. And here in vv1-2, take note, first of all, of HOW THE GOD OF THE PROMISES IS REFERRED TO IN V1: He is “the Most High” and “the Almighty.” The name “Most High” is first found in the Bible way back in Genesis 14, where Melchizedek is described as priest of God Most High. And t is in Genesis 17 that God first describes Himself as “God Almighty.”
1. So first of all, because these names come from the time of the Patriarchs, the Psalmist is providing some HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE to believers caught up in a moment of trouble, as it were. He is basically calling on them to remember that God has been around for a very long time!
a. In Psalm 90:1-3, he does it by saying, “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations … from everlasting to everlasting you are God … a thousand years in [God’s] sight are but as yesterday when it is past.” And Peter quoted that Psalm in our earlier reading from 2 Peter 3:8 in order to remind suffering believers who wondered why the Lord hadn’t come back to earth yet, that “the Lord is not slow to fulfil His promise as some count slowness.” OK? God is the God who began history, who is over history, and who will bring history to its completion.
b. So these two names provide some eternal or historical perspective. And that is an important truth for you to remember when you are in difficult circumstances.
2. But secondly look at the names themselves: “the Most High” and “the Almighty.” They are names that speak of SOVEREIGNTY and power and ability and control and rule. This God, your God is in total control of everything.
a. In the Book of Job, when Job, in his utter misery and confusionion, basically commanded God to explain what was happening, do you remember God’s reply? “Where were you when I laid the foundation for the earth? … Have you an arm like God and can you thunder with a voice like His? … Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty?” God pretty much put Job in His place by reminding him of His sovereignty.
b. So when trouble comes into your life, and you are tempted to start grumbling and complaining and questioning God and His providence, you should instead choose to dwell on the fact that God is the “Most High” and “the Almighty.”
C. But in connection with the two names of God in v1, we are given FOUR METAPHORS or word-pictures about the believer’s secure situation in vv1-2. And they are the words “shelter,” “shadow,” “refuge,” and “fortress.” And we could say plenty about each of these metaphors, but we will limit ourselves to just two illustrations today:
1. Other English versions of the Bible translate the word “shelter” in v1 as “SECRET PLACE.”
a. Perhaps at one time or another, we can all remember having a secret place, maybe at home or somewhere on the property or in the park. Well, did we advertise that place to everyone? Was it open to just anyone? Absolutely not. It was only our best friends that got to come and enjoy our secret place.
b. Well the Most High brings His people into His “secret place.” As their Almighty Friend, He brings them into a secure situation.
2. But the word “fortress” will remind many of us of Martin Luther’s Reformation Hymn, A MIGHTY FORTRESS IS OUR GOD, which, in German, for Julia’s sake, is Ein Feste Burg is Unser Gott. Luther has in view a big fortress or a castle on a hillside that the enemy just cannot enter. And God is the believer’s Almighty fortress; God is the believer’s secure situation.
II. And we see more about this as we turn in the second place to consider the believer’s SAFE SANCTUARY, from vv3-13.
A. And in these verses we have a piling up of images and instances of God at work to keep His people in perfect peace.
1. From v3, “THE SNARE OF THE FOWLER,” boys and girls, means a trap to catch birds. During this past week, our Prime-minister announced a plan to make NZ possum, rat, and stoat free by 2050. And no doubt, that plan will include traps designed to catch those animals. Well, God here promises to deliver His people from the traps of their enemies.
a. And the enemies of God’s people can be physical enemies, as in the armies of invading nations. And more is said about this in v5 where we are told that God’s people need “not fear the terror of the night nor the arrow that flies by day.” And this is what vv7-8 describe also – the enemy’s soldiers are dying by their thousands and ten thousands, but not God’s people; they will stand safe and sound. And history is full of stories about times when God did indeed keep His people safe during times of war.
b. But the enemies of God’s people can also be the spiritual enemies of the world, the weaknesses of the flesh, and the devil. Verse 5 is accurate not only in terms of literal arrows but also the arrows of temptation. However, God’s promise is to deliver His people from all their enemies.
2. And God also promises to deliver His people from “DEADLY PESTILENCE,” as we see in v3.
a. And boys and girls, pestilence means disease or plague or illness. You will have heard that nearly all of the world’s top male golfers have pulled out of the Olympic Games because of the ZIKA virus. It appears that Zika travels up from golf balls through golf clubs and into the hands of only Male golfers. It is a very weird disease But all joking aside, Zika is a nasty disease. And yet, God promises to deliver His people from disease here and in v6 and in v10.
b. And if you read Christian biography, you will read about Christian men and women who have ministered to or nursed the sick and dying during times of plague who have not gotten sick themselves. One of those was LORD CRAVEN. He was a rich nobleman. And when the plague was killing thousands in London in the 15th century, he decided to flee the city for the relative safety of the countryside. But as he was walking to his carriage, he heard one of his servants say to another one, “I suppose by my Lord’s quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country and not in town.” Well, these words made such an impression on Lord Craven that he cancelled his trip, saying, “My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am.” So he stayed in London and helped plague victims. And you know what? He never caught the plague himself. God promises to deliver His people from disease.
3. In fact, as we come to v10, we read, “NO evil shall be allowed to befall you.” No evil. Not any evil. Nothing evil shall befall you. And this is accomplished, as we see in v11, by the angels of God. We are told that God “commands His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.” Hebrews 1:14 tells us that the ANGELS ARE “MINISTERING SPIRITS sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” How this happens, exactly, we do not know. That is a part of God’s secret will, which we must be content to leave with Him. But it happens! Whether it be in the ordinary events of each day or the spectacular escapes from injury or illness that we cannot explain, the angels of God are at work to guard God’s people.
Now, if you have not asked this question yet, you must surely be asking it now; and that question is HOW CAN ALL THIS BE TRUE? How can Psalm 91 really be true?
• Start with the people of Israel in the OT. To be sure, the Lord did bring them back from exile. But they were always ruled by other nations after that time, people continued to give in to temptation, disease and war came along, many times, and every believer died, eventually.
• And even after the coming of Christ, Christians have died in times of war, and there has been plague and disease, and even though v12 says that the angels will help us not to strike our feet against a stone, I am sure that you boys and girls, who love the Lord Jesus, have stubbed your toe at some time, right? And despite what v13 says, Christians have been eaten by lions in the Coliseum. And Christians have suffered persecution, and every Christian since Christ has died, eventually; even Lord Craven! So how can Psalm 91 be true?
A. Well, before anything else, let’s remember that Psalm 91 is the prayer or the song OF THE LORD JESUS CHRIST.
1. And some of you might remember this point from the mini-series on the Psalms that we did a couple of years ago. These Psalms were the Psalms of the Lord Jesus when He was on earth. He turned to them for instruction and comfort. As He faced hardship and persecution and even death, He was comforted by the promise that “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” So to His Father in heaven, He said, “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’”
2. And as a reward for His faithful and sacrificial service, Jesus now enjoys ultimate victory. Where? In heaven. It is there that the Lord Jesus enjoys perfect peace. In heaven there are no enemies, there are no diseases, and there is no death; there is only safety and security and joy and peace and happiness and good health and life.
3. So as we consider Psalm 91 as the Psalm of Jesus, our horizon is lifted to heaven as the place of ultimate victory.
B. Would you like to experience the perfect peace and ultimate victory of heaven? Well, Psalm 91 wants you to know THAT you can and Psalm 91 tells you HOW you can. For Psalm 91 is also the prayer or the song OF THE BELIEVER.
1. YOU need to be able to say, as we read in v2, “I will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.’” For as we see in v9, it is only If or “because you have made the Lord your dwelling place – the Most High, who is my refuge – [that] no evil shall be allowed to befall you”, etc.
2. The promise of ultimate victory in heaven belongs only to the person who trusts in the Lord Jesus. It is only the one who knows that he or she is a guilty sinner but that Jesus came to die on the cross for the forgiveness of MY sins, who can experience the care and protection of the Lord in this life and perfect peace in heaven for eternity.
AND THIS, _____________, IS WHAT YOU MUST TEACH __________. Notice that v9 does not say, “because [you have been baptized] no evil will befall you…” It says, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place…” The two of you have made the Lord your dwelling place; He is your mighty fortress; He is your feste burg. That is why _____ has been baptized today. But ____must make the Lord her dwelling place. ____ must repent of her sins and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. _______ must trust in the Lord for her salvation. And you must tell her this as she grows up.
But this truth is the same for EVERYONE here today: Trusting in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins is the only way to be certain that you will spend eternity in heave. Have you done this?
II. If so, then be further encouraged as we very briefly consider the last three verses of Psalm 91 and see that through Jesus God is the believer’s STRONG SUPPORTER.
A. And it is God Himself who speaks in these verses. In vv1-13 the Psalmist is the one speaking. But now God speaks. And six times in these few sentences, God says, “I will…”
1. In the Book of James, we human beings are taught to be careful about saying I will do this or I will go there. Instead we are told to say If the Lord wills I will do this or go there. But God simply says “I will…!” And He can say this because He is God! He is able! He is strong!
(1). Psalm 115:3, “Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases.”
2. So when God says to you, “I will deliver [you] … I will protect [you] … I will answer [you] … I will be with [you] in trouble; I will rescue [you] and honour [you]. With long life I will satisfy [you] and show [you] my salvation,” you can ‘put that in the bank,’ as the saying goes. God Himself is telling you that you need not fear or doubt. He is your strong supporter!
B. And what He says to you in these verses today, He will show you next week around the Lord’s Supper table.
1. What is the simple command that Lord Jesus gave in relation to coming to the table? He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.” He did not say do this because you have done this or accomplished that or maintained this standard. He said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
2. And it is the same here in this Psalm. The Lord does not say, because he is without sin and has kept all my commandments and because He deserves my care and eternal life in heaven, I will deliver him, etc. Instead He uses terms that picture a young child who simply clings to his powerful father in love and knows him by name and calls out to him when he is in need. What we have here is NOT THE LANGUAGE OF DOING BUT THE LANGUAGE OF RELATIONSHIP.
3. Psalm 91 is a reminder that the Lord’s Supper is not for those who are free from sin, but for those who depend on the finished sacrifice of Jesus Christ. It is for those who know that they have been adopted into the family of God, by grace alone.
4. And because Jesus told us to celebrate the Supper until He comes, we may be certain that one day He will come to take us to Himself and the ultimate victory described here in Psalm 91.
Jesus said, “‘Surely I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!”