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Author:Rev. W.B. Slomp
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Congregation:Immanuel Canadian Reformed Church
 Edmonton, Alberta
 www.edmontonimmanuel.ca
 
Title:The Lord Will Help Us and Protect Us from All Harm
Text:Psalms 121 (View)
Occasion:New Years Eve
Topic:Comfort in a World of Pain
 
Preached:2010-12-31
Added:2011-01-21
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Sing:

Psalm 122: 1, 3

Hymn 1A

Psalm 121: 1-4

Hymn 10:1, 9, 10

Hymn 65: 1-3

 

Read: Romans 8: 18-39

Text: Psalm 121

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, brothers and sisters,

Psalm 121 is a well-known Psalm. We often read from it to comfort those who are about to experience a perilous event – before surgery, for example, or before a long trip. This Psalm promises you that God watches over you and that nothing will harm you.

But, to tell you the truth, in the past I've had some difficulty with this Psalm. Perhaps that is true of you as well. Is it really true that God will protect you from accidents, or from the slip of a surgeon’s knife? Does he protect you from slipping and sliding or from breaking your leg, or from having a car accident? Yet, that is what this Psalm is telling us. "The Lord", it says, "will keep you from all harm."

But is that always the case? There are all kinds of things that can and do harm us. As we look forward to the new year, we also know that anything can happen to us. Some of us may be diagnosed with cancer. Someone else may fall off a roof and seriously injure himself. Or you can get into a collision with your vehicle. Car accidents also happen to Christians. Some of us may even die.

All of these things have happened to some of us in the last year. And there is no reason to think that that's not going to happen in the new year. These things happen to us in spite of the prayers that we send up to God asking him that we do not come to harm.

And so, how are we to interpret this Psalm? Is this Psalm merely expressing a wish? Is it just giving us some false hope?

Well brothers and sisters, when this Psalm is studied in the light of the Scriptures, then we come to the realization what a wonderful and comforting Psalm this actually is, and how true it is that God does protect us from all harm.

However, you have to understand what this Psalm is saying, what it is all about. This Psalm teaches you to realize how God works in our lives. How he is a present help to us at all times. That is the message of this sermon. The theme is as follows:

The Lord Will Help Us and Protect Us from All Harm.

The author of this Psalm says that he lifts up his eyes to the hills or to the mountains. What hills or mountains is he talking about? Nobody seems to be sure. There are many commentaries on this passage and they all have a different interpretation. The one states that the mountains refer to the mountains along the road from Jerusalem to the pilgrim's home. Others think that they refer to the hills the pilgrim will encounter along the way as he departs from home and makes his way to Jerusalem to attend one of the great festivals, such as Passover.

Again others believe that the hills are the hills near Jerusalem. Jerusalem is built on Mount Zion. That is where the people looked to seek help from God. For that is where God made his dwelling: in Jerusalem, in the Temple.

There are also those who think that those hills or mountains belong to the hills of Babylon. The people are preparing to return home from the exile, and see before them the great obstacle in the way of the mountains. And they ask for God's help as they prepare themselves to go through the difficult terrain.
 
There are even those who think that the hills refer to the “high places” where the pagan gods were believed to live. The psalmist says that he lifts up his eyes to the high places, to the hills, but then he remembers that his help is not from those hills where the pagan gods supposedly dwell, but from God who made heaven and earth.
 
Which explanation is the right one? Well, we have to read exactly what it says. It is simple enough. No specific mountains are mentioned, and so neither should we focus on specific mountains. It makes the most sense to see this as a reference to the mountains in general, to the mountains wherever you may encounter them.
 
Mountains remind us of God's presence. When you look at the mountains then you look up to them and see how majestic they are. And then you also look beyond the mountains to where God is. You see God's mighty hand in his creation, as represented by the mountains, and his presence beyond the mountains, in heaven.
 
But when you think of the mountains you think also of the dangers that lurk there. There are deep ravines and narrow paths and slippery slopes. One misstep and you could seriously hurt yourself, or even get killed. There are also dangerous animals. That is where the wild bears live that can rip you apart. Or an avalanche could bury you in the snow.
 
The kinds of dangers you face in the mountains represent the kinds of dangers you encounter in life. There are many things that can undo you. There are first of all the physical dangers. Think about the many kinds of things that can happen to us, and about how vulnerable we are. There are numerous ways in which we could come to physical harm in the New Year: illnesses, accidents, wars, natural disasters.
 
We can also be harmed spiritually or mentally. Satan is always trying to trip us up. He will try to find ways of making us forget about God. He wants us to be angry all the time about the bad things that can happen to us. He wants us to blame others. He wants us to blame God.
 
Trouble comes in many forms. As the Lord Jesus says in John 16:33, "In this world you will have trouble.” But he also says further in that same verse, "But take heart! I have overcome the world.” So we have to trust in the Lord.
 
That's also what the author of this Psalm says. He is confident that God will protect him no matter what may come to him. He looks at the mountains and remembers that God is the one who made them. These mountains remind him of God’s great strength. They remind him of everything that God stands for. They remind him of the fact that we can count on God's divine help, his divine protection, and his divine care and watchfulness. We can expect all these things from the Lord our God. The Psalmist is certain of that.
 
Indeed, that is also what the Scriptures tell us throughout. In the Old Testament we frequently find the expression that the Lord God is the only one who can truly help us. That's also true in the New Testament. We read in Hebrews 13:5 & 6 that "God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” And therefore the author of this letter says, "So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
 
And that is also what we confess every time we begin a worship service together. We confess together that our help is in the name of the Lord, who is the maker of heaven and earth. And because we trust in him, we also ask him to protect us from harm. For we know what he is capable of.
 
But how are we to understand this? There are those who use this Psalm, and the other assurances of God's help and protection, like an insurance policy. They only turn to him when something goes wrong. They call upon his name when they are in trouble.
 
That is how you use travel insurance. You buy such insurance to give you peace of mind during your trip that if you experience some kind of calamity then you have the great resources of a large insurance company available to help you.
 
You have the assurance that when you suddenly become sick or have an accident in a foreign country that then the insurance will kick in and the company will go to bat for you. They will help you arrange medical help, and even transport you to a hospital near your home, to where your friends and relatives live. You count on the insurance company to deal with all the paperwork, and with the various foreign authorities.
 
Once the crisis is over and you are restored to health, then you forget about the insurance company. You say, “Thank you very much for your help. I will call on you again another time when I'm in trouble, but now I don't need you anymore.”
 
If that is how we treat God's help, then it is no wonder that some people become disappointed in life. You only look to God to see you through a crisis, but when that does not happen in the way that you expect or in the way that you want, then you wonder why God wasn’t there to help you.
 
You see, God does not help us in that way. He is not like an insurance company that only helps you through a crisis. God helps us in a much different way, in a much more meaningful way. God stands by you all the time. He is always at your side.
 
As the psalmist says, "He who watches over you will not slumber. He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep." In that sense he is not like the gods of the pagans who, just like human beings, need sleep and get tired. These gods are the product of man's imagination. The heathen nations made up their own gods. And they mimic the lives of human beings. For that reason Elijah poked fun at the priests of Baal who looked to him to help them. He said to those priests, “Shout louder!” “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (1 Kings 18:27)
 
The God of Israel, the Psalmist reminds us, is different. He watches over his covenant people all the time. He watches over you and me. But we have to be aware of his presence.
 
In the passage that we read together Paul writes to the Romans who are experiencing all kinds of difficulties. They are suffering. And then he puts it all into perspective for them. He first acknowledges their pain. He speaks about the whole creation that has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth. As many women of this congregation know, childbirth is painful. Well, says Paul, so is life here on earth. Oh sure, there are many things that we can enjoy. There are many times when we do not experience pain and that's wonderful. But we all know that painful things can and do happen. They will certainly happen in our lifetime. There are many frustrations. And you will experience pain and sorrow also in the coming year. We cannot escape pain. For our bodies and our minds are mortal. We will all die at one time or another. There is no escaping it.
 
But then Paul comes with the wonderful comfort that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. In other words, the pain and sorrow that we experience in this life will come to an end. God has created us for glory. Glory has to do with absolute bliss. It has to do with a life that knows no sorrow. It has to do with a life that knows only joy. And that is why he says further on that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.
 
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, those are the key words. He works for the good of those who love him. Who love him all the time. Who are aware of his presence all the time. When your foot slips, and you break your leg, then God is right there with you. Or when you are diagnosed with cancer, or some other terminal illness, then God is also right there beside you. He doesn't sleep or slumber.
 
And so he is also there with you during times of good health and prosperity. Then he is right beside you as well. He is, as the Psalm says, at your right hand. In other words he is nearby. You can be absolutely sure of that. He is the creator of heaven and earth and he is also your creator.
 
But “How is God present?” you may ask. Well, lift up your eyes to the hills, the mountains. As I said earlier, the mountains refer to God's presence. God's people know that the law of God was given to them on top of Mount Sinai. It was on that mountain that God gave the two tablets of the law containing the Ten Words of the Covenant to Moses. Moses had to pass that on to God's people. And in those Ten Words God reminds his covenant people that he is the one who delivered them from Egypt, from the land of slavery. Their help comes from the Lord.
 
That’s true of us as well. But do we avail ourselves of God’s help? Do we keep his commandments? For that is why he gave them to us, to help us through life. He gives those 10 Commandments to keep his people safe and secure. To keep them from going down the wrong path.
 
And so, brothers and sisters, that is one important way in which we experience God's presence, God’s help. As we go through life we have to remember how God has delivered us from sin. He has delivered us through his Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. The 10 Commandments also function for us.
 
Do you want to be safe during this new year? Do you want to escape from trouble? Do you want to know how to handle life as other people make things difficult for you, or as your health deteriorates? Then think about the laws that God has given to you. First of all think about the Gospel contained within the law: that God is your Deliverer, your Redeemer. And then also think about the laws themselves. Don't bring trouble upon yourself by not keeping God's law. For by keeping God's commandments you will not come to harm.
 
The laws, for example, will protect you from becoming too attached to this world. For the first commandment tells you to make God number one in your life. Not your home, not your business, not your bank account, not your surgeon, not your children, not your parents. Don't trust in any of these things. Don’t trust in man, no matter how wise; trust in God, and you will have peace.
 
In the second commandment God tells you not to make any idols for yourself. Don't make of yourself an idol, as someone who needs to be worshiped and honoured. Honour God. Don't make an idol of anything that you find here on earth.
 
And do not take God's name in vain. In other words, remember that you are a child of God, and that you represent him. Honour him above all else. Keep the day of rest. Worship him. Be regular in your churchgoing. For it is in church that you are reminded of your relationship with the Lord your God. That is where you receive food – spiritual, wholesome food – that you need for the rest of the week, and throughout the whole year so that you may have a peaceful life.
 
And so we can go through all the Commandments to remind us of how God is near us, in his Word. He gives us his Word and Spirit to be close to us, always. He is not like some insurance agent that we call upon only in crisis. No, he is the Almighty God who stands by you every moment of each day, 24/7.
 
Look to the hills. Think of Calvary. It was on the hill just outside of Jerusalem that the Lord Jesus was crucified. He died for your sake. He paid for our sins. There he allowed himself to be abandoned, not only by men, but by God himself. There he took on all our sins, so that we can be delivered from them.
 
And it was there that he could be victorious over death. For they laid him in the grave, and on the third day he rose again. The Lord Jesus died so that he could give us life. Now we can share in his resurrection. Look to the hills; look to Golgotha.
 
When you think of the mountains, think also of the Mount of Olives. It is from there that the Lord Jesus bodily ascended into heaven. He took our flesh with him as a guarantee that we also will be with him into eternity. Now he is seated at the right hand of God where he pleads our cause. From there he sends us his help. He comes to us with his Word and Spirit. He saves us from our sins.
 
And that is why Paul, in the same passage where he speaks about the groaning of this present world, could come with the triumphant statement, "Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?"  (Romans 8:33-35)
 
He is always with us. He is always there to help us.
 
Do you know what that means? That means that he is not just there when we go to church, or when we read the Bible at home, or when we pray. He is not just there as we practice our religion. No, he is interested in every aspect of your life. He is interested in you, young children, as you play. God is right beside you to help you and to protect you from harm.
 
And he is with you, teenagers and young adults, as you work or play on your computer. He is also there when you are busy repairing cars, or when you are in the kitchen preparing a meal. He is there right beside you to help you.
 
But do you know what the problem is? The problem is that often we set our own timetable. We want help in our own way. We want it now. We are impatient. And we come with our own demands.
 
We are unwilling to see how God works in our lives. For he helps us in ways we do not realize. But he does help. In his time. In his way. He makes sure that we come to our final destination, to be with him.
 
The problem also is that we want to do things on our own, in our own strength. And we think about God only when we are in trouble, or when we need him for some other reason.
 
Think about it. Do you really want God’s help? Let me ask you young people, do you ask for God’s help as you look for a marriage partner? Do you ask for God’s help as you make career choices? And all of you, do you ask for God’s help when you try to overcome an addiction? Do you ask for help as you deal with the weakness of your flesh? Do you ask for God’s help in all your daily activities?
 
Brothers and sisters, boys and girls, the Lord our God, he is our Immanuel, our God with us. As you experience trouble in this life, and the frailty of human existence, then you can remember what God has done for you and the great hope that he has given you, through His Son Jesus Christ. He gave you life. In spite of the pains and the sorrows that you may experience, he is always with you. And he will be with you also in this coming year.
 
Listen to what the Lord Jesus Christ said as he ascended into heaven. He said in Matthew 28:20, "And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In stating that, he does not just give you some false hope. This Psalm is not just expressing some wish either which God does not fulfill. He is with you in adversity and in prosperity. With him you are always safe. For there is absolutely nothing that can separate you from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That will also be the case in this new year. And so, put your trust in God and indeed you will never come to harm. Amen



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. W.B. Slomp, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: www.edmontonimmanuel.ca

(c) Copyright 2010, Rev. W.B. Slomp

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