When we were looking at this last time we focused on verse 1 where it speaks about making our home in God. We learned that those whose home is in God find him to be their strength and their all-sufficiency in all things. No one exemplifies that in their human experience as much as the Lord Jesus.
From all eternity–from all eternity–as God in His divine nature, he dwelt in the most holy place, in the secret place of the Most High, which is another translation of that word “shelter”. The secret place of the Most High. In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” If there is any one about whom it could be said that he dwells in the secret place of the Most High and remains in the shadow of the Almighty, it is none other than the Lord Jesus. As God, he shares the secret place of God. He shares the glory of God before the foundation of the world. But at the Incarnation, he who is by very nature God, humbled himself and took on himself the form of a servant and was found in fashion as a man. That is, a fully human nature, body and soul, mind and will. It was as a human being that he cultivated, in a human way, what it is to dwell under the shadow of the Almighty; what it is to dwell in the secret place of the Almighty.
Verse 2 describes what it looks like as a human. If verse 1 describes Jesus as he is eternally as God, verse 2 tells us what it looks like for a human to dwell in the shadow of the Almighty and abide in the shadow of the Almighty. This is what it means: “I will say to the Lord, my refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
What does it look like for a person to know God? it is for a person to be able to say personally to God, “You are my fortress, you are my rock, you are my refuge, you are my God. I will trust in you.” As a human being, as a believer, Jesus lived his human life in the in the presence of God, under the shadow of God, by living a life of faith–by living a life of trust in God. Now that he has gone back, we think of this on Ascension Day. And today, as we reflect back on the Ascension Day, when when Jesus ascends up into heaven in his resurrected body, when he enters heaven itself not as he was in his eternal glory because he never left heaven as he was in his eternal glory. There was no movement or change in the eternal son of God. But now having brought our humanity into heaven itself, our resurrected human nature right into the very innermost sanctum of heaven, we find that this is an indicator of what God has for us.
I think of Jesus’ words to Mary when Mary has met him in the garden after the resurrection and, of course, Mary doesn’t know he’s raised until Jesus speaks to her. They have this conversation and at the end of the conversation Jesus gives to Mary a great Commission: “Go to my brothers,” he says, “and say to them, give them this message: ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father and to my God and your God.'” Notice here that Jesus tells her to go to his people. He call some brothers, but that includes men and women. It includes everybody who’s there gathered in the upper room. He calls them his brethren. He’s not ashamed to call us his brethren, his brothers and sisters, because he has taken on our human nature and he has been made like his brethren in every respect we’re told in Hebrews 2. He is our brother by virtue, not only of sharing our human nature, but by virtue of having adopted us into the family of God by grace. It’s because we the adopted children of our Heavenly Father that Jesus gives this message to Mary to pass on.
We are the adopted children of the Father of whom, he, Jesus is the natural son. He is a son by Nature. whenever we call God the Father of Jesus or the son, we are to understand that we talk about this in a different way than we talk about it when we call God our Father. That’s why Jesus distinguishes here. When he says “I’m going back, I’m going to ascend to my Father” he means “my Father by Nature, your Father by grace.” When he says “I’m going to ascend to my God,” it is as a creature in his human nature, “my God.” When he says to Mary, “tell them, ‘I’m going to my God and your God he’s your God because of my work. Because of my work as the mediator, reconciling men to God, reconciling people to God. My God and your God by grace, by adoption, by virtue of my work on your behalf, my work as your mediator.'”
That’s why the Apostle Paul can say, for example, in Romans 5, “Therefore having been justified by faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ through whom also we have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we exult in the hope of the glory of the children of God.” What glory do we exult in? What is the hope of glory of the children of God? It is the hope of sharing in the glory of the risen Christ: the glory that now is enjoyed in the resurrected body of the risen Christ, the man from heaven. He is our goal and we are to become like him on the day of our resurrection.
Through Christ, then, the believer has boldness. “Do you see,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “boldness to enter the holy place.” What is this holy place? It’s the high and holy place. It’s the secret place of the Most High. We have boldness to enter there by the blood of Christ. Because of our connection with Jesus, heaven is now our home. We haven’t been there yet, but heaven is our home, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. What’s true of the head, is true of the members. What’s true of the head is true of the body the body of Christ, which is the church.
Well that’s the introduction to these verses we’re going to look at today.
In verse 3 the pronouns move from the eye of the human Christ in verse 2 to someone now addressing him, a divine figure now addressing him. I think that we are to see as we read this Psalm, three divine voices are being heard. We might want to say one divine voice, but it seems to be coming from three speakers. We don’t understand that without the New Testament. The triune God speaks as one, for he is one, but there is a differentiation of relation within the Godhead signified by the language we use of the Father who begets the Son who’s begotten and the Holy Spirit who is breathed out upon us. It’s God, as God, in the fullness of his being, that communicates himself and reveals himself to us.
When the Son of God came into the world as a human being he revealed God to us in a human way. When the Holy Spirit reveals God to us he does so by instruments: the prophets and the Apostles. When God the Father reveals himself he uses human instruments: he use it he sends the Son and the Spirit in order to communicate with human beings something of himself. Each of these voices that we hear, which are one voice, the voice of God, each of these divine speakers are assuring Christ first of all, in his human nature, as a believer and by extension assuring us as those who are joined to him.
Let’s listen very carefully to what the voices say. Verse 3: “he will deliver you from the snare of the Fowler and from the deadly pestilence.” Now you can see his figurative language is going on here. Here’s a bird snared by a Fowler, a man who catches birds and it’s applied to human beings, it’s being applied to Christ first of all and then to Christian people in him. The key word you notice there is the word “snare” that involves a cunning plot, a subtle trap, an unseen danger. The Jewish commentators in their midrashes refer this Fowler to a demon, the destroyer, we might say the Devil. He is the one who sets snares for Jesus and for Jesus’ people.
Sometimes the Devil uses evil people. In Psalm 140: “the arrogant have hidden a trap for me and with cords they have spread a net. Beside the way they have set snares for me.” Or again in Psalm 119, “the wicked have laid a snare for me but I don’t stray from your precepts.” People can be the unwitting instruments of Satan as they entice us away from that good that God is and that good that God would have us do.
Wealth. We need wealth in order to live at one measure or another. Wealth, however you measure it, and how much you have, is a good thing which has the potential for being a snare to the believer. It can potentially, we read in 1 Timothy 6 plunge people into ruin and destruction. Here there’s a snare: it’s the evil one and it leads to a deadly pestilence. This is a figure of speech describing a spiritual contagion.
In fact the word “pestilence” here in the number of commentators can be vocalized by the use of the word “word.” It could be a word of error, for example. The devil spreads lies. He is a liar, a deceiver, an accuser; and he’s been that all along. False teaching is a deadly lie that deceives and destroys many people. The only antidote to the deadly lie is to continually commune with the God of peace. The devil through his agents, whether demonic or human, is always active setting traps for the unwary like a hunter does. If you want to walk safely, if you want to walk without falling into those traps, walk with Christ. Walk beside him. Let Christ be your way and he will lead you into truth and you will be brought to the everlasting life. Don’t deviate to the right of the left. Let him be your way, he who became the way, that he might lead you through himself to himself. If so you will not need to fear.
This this deadly word, or pestilence, this deadly word comes not only in the form of error but comes in the form of mockery: The taunts that that our pagan neighbors throw at us. It can take us by surprise. We’re not ready for it. It trips us up, perhaps out of sheer embarrassment. Or there are other times that we could speak up that we keep quiet because we’re afraid of human criticism, and we fall foul of the Fowler.
And there’s the deadly words of fellow Christians. Once you show yourself to be a decided Christian, once you show yourself desiring to please God supremely, or observe the Lord’s Day more strictly, or grasp God’s truth more thoroughly, or serve God more enthusiastically–you know that that can often result in harsh words, dismissive words from fellow Christians. I always remember the first sermon I preached in my home church. I don’t know how bad or good it was. Everybody thought it was good because they let me preach there again, but I remember at the door a man was going out and he he gave me a reference in Proverbs as he shook my hand at the door. I was sixteen and I went home and I read what he had given me to read and it said, “do not be rash to open your mouth in the house of God.” Well, I was crushed. Devastated. I thought I’m never going to stand up and preach in a church again. You can see where that resolution ended. In other words, Christian people can put you down can be harsh and dismissive.
It was a deadly word that Mary said to Jesus when she tried to get him to act before his time. It was a deadly word when Peter urged Jesus not to go to the cross. It was a deadly word when people are asked Jesus if he would do more signs to demonstrate who he was. Or when the crowds taunted him as he hung upon the cross. In all of those things, he was preserved. He did not fall foul of the Fowler. Instead he discovered the truth of the promise in verse 4: “he will cover you with his pinions and under his wings you will find refuge. His truth is a shield and buckler.” C.H. Spurgeon notes the condescension of God in using this kind of language of himself. If I was to come and say to you, “I want to I want to use an illustration of God this morning. I want to describe God or illustrate who God is by talking about a hen and her chicks,” you would look at me and you would say, “that’s above your paygrade” and of course it would be. But here we find God himself using this image of himself in enormous tenderness he likens himself to a hen who protects her chicks under her wings, who puts herself at risk to spare their lives. God made that hen like that, with that instinct, and God loves all that he has made. Why wouldn’t he use her as an illustration? St. Augustine put it like this: “If a hen protects her chicks under her wings, how much safer will you be under the wings of God? Safe against the devil and his demons, those powers of the air that hover like hawks, all ready to snatch the feeble hatchlings.” Lord Jesus was preserved because he had the Father’s promise that he would be preserved.
The Lord Jesus used this verse when he’s talking to Jerusalem and he’s lamenting over Jerusalem. Here he is, he’s the last to come now to offer them life, to offer them salvation, to offer them hope. Here he is, the Lord who’d said he would come with his salvation to Jerusalem. Here he is in Jerusalem. He says to them, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings! But you were not willing. You were not willing. As a result, your house is left to you desolate.” Why is it that the believer says to the Lord, “you are my refuge, you are my fortress, you are my God.” It’s because only by being one of his people, hiding under him as he covers us, as he shelters us by His grace, do we have any hope of salvation. Jerusalem did not take recourse to hide in the Lord. Though he had sent prophet after prophet to call them to trust in the Lord, whenever the threats came they rather trusted in their own wit and wisdom rather than in the Lord.
The devil exploits our fears. He leverages our weaknesses so that we substitute any advice or any supposed truth to God’s truth. Like Jerusalem we kill the prophets that God sends. Beloved, you and I must regularly flee to God’s wings and seek protection in him. Don’t be ashamed that God should use such a an image of a weak bird to describe himself, because God became weak to take on our weakness. It was for this sake the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, so we might find security under his wings. Jesus utilizes this analogy, takes it and applies it to himself from Psalm 91 to show us that when he speaks thus he speaks not as a human in his human nature but in his divine nature as God.
It is as God considered absolutely that we are called to trust ourselves to him. Now how do I do that? How do I do that? How do I avail myself of this shelter? The answer is here. It’s in his truth. His truth is a shield and buckler. We’re not quite sure what a buckler is but a shield and buckler go together. Like bag and baggage go together, or as my mother would have said, kit and kaboodle go together, but I don’t know that you know that expression in America. Shield and buckler cover everything we need for armor: total protection of our lives. We’re being told here that God’s truth and his trustworthiness, his faithfulness, is the best protection from the lies and fears that originate in hell. We might want to consider what that looks like in our time; what kind of lies are being spread abroad at this time?
Now we would want to counter, there are some extremists, I wonder if you’ve noticed this, in the media who are beginning to talk about this having “a new normal” (I hate that expression) “a new normal” in which social distancing is going to last forever. Well I think we would want to say this to these people: in our Christian view of what humanity is, human beings are social creatures. We were made for social interaction, fellowship with fellow humans. To deny that in the long term would do greater harm to humanity than this virus has done. It would diminish everyone and destroy the mental and emotional health of multitudes. In other words it would demonstrate where that lie comes from: it comes from Hell, where the destroyer, the devil, is the destroyer and a murderer from the very beginning. In these days the Christian Church has to keep up speaking up for the value of humanity.
The truth is our shield and our buckler. The church is the pillar and buttress of truth. Churches here in the world to point you to bring you by baptism into the truth and then to point the truth out to you. In that truth there are the most glorious, the most infallible promises that God has made to be our certain defense. God’s truth, His Word, his great and precious promises, are meant to be something we can build our lives upon in the midst of spiritual warfare. We go back to the thesis statement at the beginning of the Psalm, that those who have found their home in God find themselves in the safest place. We are heirs of God and all his promises in Christ. When God came to Abraham he said to Abraham, “I am your shield and your very great reward.” When Jesus came to Peter he said to Peter, “I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail.” When Satan came to Jesus, Jesus responded, “it is his written, it is written, it is written” and he uses the shield and the buckler of truth. Similarly, the body of Christ the church, Jesus’ people, shall overcome the evil one in the end. “The God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly.” Only when your home is in God can you overcome the spiritual battle in the spiritual realm.
The second point is this and it’s much briefer: There’s not only a spiritual realm in this verse, there’s a natural realm as we read on. For human beings are bodies as well as souls, and in the body we are prone to fear. We fear for our safety. We fear for our health. We fear for our very life. For the believer there is the danger of what Matthew Henry calls “a disquieting distrustful fear:” a fear that begins to torment us mentally, internally. Look at verses 5 & 6. Both of those verses refer to night and day, darkness and noontime. With with a shield and buckler of God’s truth, look at that how this flows. We have the shield and buckler of God’s truth including his promises, his faithfulness, his truthfulness. “You will not fear,” the divine speaker is addressing the human Christ. “You will not fear,” and he’s addressing those who are with Christ, in Christ, his people, you and I.
“You will not fear.” Why? Because his promises make you bold. With the armor that he provides we’re enabled to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might. We’re enabled to extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. Because we’re frail creatures, we’re in danger, we’re told here in these two verses, 5-6. We’re in danger both by night and by day. Now, of course, there are reasons at the natural and physical level why at night we’re prone to anxiety and fear. We understand that chemical element and so on. But here’s the reality: Satan can exploit that to increase your fear and he does. In our text the “you” hear is emphatic. “You will not fear.” He’s speaking to Christ, “You will not fear.” Because your mind is full of the promises of God, you’re able to address your fears and chase them away. You’re able to say with the psalmist in Psalm 27, “the Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?” Whom shall I be afraid? That’s true of Jesus, it’s true of Jesus’ people. We can take those promises. We can take those promises to bed with us at night we can rehearse those promises when we awaken and we are to bring those promises out into the day. Terror of night refers to such evil or fear that confronts us in the darkness. The arrow that flies by day points to that which comes out of nowhere. There’s no warning. It just comes out of nowhere, it pierces us through. The pestilence that stalks is the darkness is the epidemic, the pandemic, the the virus, the whatever, the plague that embraces those causes of danger and disease and death that are mysterious as to their cause and as to their cure. They come upon us. They march on unseen, carried on the very air that we breathe, pervading the atmosphere, surprising their victims, and bringing them low.
Look at the language of the next verse. These are the words spoken to Jesus: “a thousand shall fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand but it shall not come near you.” These words are directly spoken to our mediator. They’re saying to our mediator, Jesus, that no causality, no disease, no assault could terminate his life until he could lay his life down of himself. You remember he said in John 10, “no one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down. I have authority to take it up again.” You can see in verse 8 this applies only to Christ. “You will look on with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked.” For Jesus would die, but he would not die the death of a sinner. Jesus would die, but he would not die the death of one who had broken the law of God. He would die the death of a believer, of a saint.
We read in the Gospels that he he chose the moment of his death. He dismissed his spirit and he died for us and for our salvation. On the cross he would see the wages of sin. On the cross he would see it in those hanging beside him. On the cross he would see the outcome of sin. You see how death is being categorized, because disease leads to death, doesn’t it? That’s been our great fear over these months that we’ve been locked down. The disease, if we catch it, may lead to death. And it has for many people around the world. But you see how it is characterized here. Death is called the last enemy. Death stalks us all our lives long. It can catch us in the night or in the day. There is nothing natural about death. We sometimes say they died of natural causes. I don’t think the Bible would let us do that. Adam, the first man, was made mortal that he might gain immortality by obeying God. He was not made to die. He was not created that he might die. He was created that he might live. Then sin enters the world and death by sin. Man and woman, you and I were not made for death. Death is an intruder into God’s good world. Death is not something we celebrate. Abraham wept when Sarah died. Christians grieve when their fellow believers die. Jesus snorted with anger and wept with grief at the tomb of Lazarus because he saw firsthand the horror that sin has done. Death is not some natural cycle. It is unnatural. It is evil.
These promises are made absolutely to Christ, but here’s the thing: where Christ is, there his people are. This promise to Christ is that he cannot die until he chooses to die as our Savior. The promise to you as a believer is this: that you cannot die until the Lord permits. He has appointed a day for you and me to die. I don’t know when that day is. I don’t want to know when that day is. I want it to be a surprise. But God has appointed a day. Here’s what I’m going to say clearly: I will not die before the appointment God has made for me to die and neither will you. Neither will you.
Will you take comfort from this? Will you banish fear and put your faith in your trust in God? You will not die until the Lord permits and as a believer you will not die until Christ intercedes for you before his Father that you be delivered from this evil world and whatever may be coming in the future, that you be delivered from that, and delivered safely home to God. I hear these words of Jesus in John 17, “Father, I desire that they also whom you have given me may be with me where I am to see my glory that you’ve given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.” When a believer dies it is because the Lord Jesus has prayed that prayer to his father on their behalf and you will not die, believer, you will not die until Jesus, in his intercession for us before the Father, prays that prayer for you. Isn’t that amazing?
What about the meantime? How do I live in the meantime? We go back to Jesus’ example in verse 2: “I will say to the Lord, ‘my refuge, my fortress, my God in whom I trust.'” It comes down to that, really. In the midst of all of the fears that we have, it comes down to the question of, do I really trust in God? Is he really my refuge, my fortress, my God? Can I say with Jesus “in whom I trust”?
One of the old Puritans puts it like this: “Faith looks to the Word, promising. Hope looks to the thing promised. Faith looks to the authority of the promiser. Hope to the goodness of what is promised. Faith looks on things as present.” In other words I trust him now, right now. “Hope thinks of these same things as to come to us hereafter.”
God as the first truth is what faithfulness reckons with and relies on. God as the chief good is that on which our hope rests. This is where the doctrine of the Providence of God kicks in. In the Heidelberg catechism, the question runs like this: “What do you mean by the Providence of God?” It answers, “the Almighty and everywhere present power of God, whereby, as it were by his hand, he upholds and governs heaven and earth and all creatures, so that herbs and grass, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, meat and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, yes and all things come not by chance but by his fatherly hand.” Christian, do you believe that? Are you trusting in that? You’re trusting in him for now being reassured that like him we shall rise. Like him we shall ascend. Like him we will be glorified. And with him we will always be forever. Forever with the Lord.
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