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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Under His Wings
Text:Psalms 91:1-16 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Selections from the 1976 Psalter Hymnal unless otherwise noted:

426 - Jesus, with Thy Church Abide

85 – God Is Our Refuge and Our Strength

424 (Red) - All the Way My Savior Leads Me              

444 - A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

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

Pastor Ted Gray
“Under His Wings”
Psalm 91:1-16
The author of Psalm 91 recognized something that I’m sure you have experienced. I know I have. The Psalmist recognized that in the pilgrimage of our lives we face two types of dangers. We face obvious, visible dangers and we face hidden dangers that catch us by surprise.
An obvious danger is in the second part of verse 3 where the author describes a deadly pestilence. Those who heard this Psalm read, in both the Old Testament era and the New, could relate to a deadly pestilence. There have been times throughout history where danger is obvious and frightening. Outbreaks of deadly flu, the bubonic plague, or the bloody battles of an ongoing war are just a few reminds of the obvious dangers that are part of the human experience.
Verse 3 also speaks about the fowler’s snare. What makes a snare effective is that it is hidden and catches its victim totally unaware. In that way the fowler’s snare can be just as dangerous and deadly as the obvious dangers. The only difference is that it is hidden, until its victim is in ensnared tightly in its grip.
The theme, first mentioned in verse 3, about obvious and hidden dangers, continues throughout the Psalm. Verse 5 speaks of the terror of night, and the arrow that flies by day. One is an obvious danger. Why do we use motion sensor lights at night? It's because we know there is an obvious danger in the darkness of night. A burglar or an intruder is more likely to strike because of the cover of darkness.
But the arrow that flies by day speaks of a hidden danger as well as an obvious danger. In times of war, the arrow of the enemy was an obvious danger, but an arrow can also be unexpected. It is silent, and can be sent with speed and deadly power, coming out of nowhere, catching its intended victim totally by surprise, even on the most sunny and tranquil days.
We see the contrast again in verse 13 which speaks about treading on the lion and trampling the great lion, but it also speaks about the serpent (cobra NIV adder, in the ESV). Those descriptions remind us of the evil one. Satan is described as an obvious danger. 1 Peter 5:8 warns us to “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Throughout history, and certainly in each new year that comes our way, we can be sure that Satan will attack God's people and seek to intimidate them by sheer force, much like a roaring lion.
When verse 13 speaks about trampling the great lion and the serpent, it also points out that the evil one works against God's people subtly. At many times he attacks and tempts the people of God, not as a roaring lion that is obvious and visible, but as that serpent, like a snake disguised in the tall grass waiting to catch the person passing by unaware as it sinks its deadly venom into its victim or squeezes the life out of them.
And what was true for the psalmist so many years ago is also true for us today. Throughout our lives we can be sure that we will face both the obvious dangers – war, terrorism, economic uncertainty – and also the dangers and obstacles that come upon us suddenly, without warning, just as September 11, 2001, came so suddenly without warning.
Commentators are divided as to who wrote this Psalm. Many Psalms have a subscript telling us who the author was. Many, of course, were written by David, but others by Asaph, by the sons of Korah, and even Moses wrote the previous Psalm.  But this Psalm doesn't tell us who the human author was.
Some commentators believe that Moses was the author of the Psalm. After all, he faced many obvious dangers. He faced Pharaoh who was a ruthless leader. After the Lord delivered Israel out of Pharaoh’s hand, Moses had over 2 million people to lead through the desert. He faced complaints about food and the scarcity of water, and about why he, by God's directive, had led Israel out of Egypt as the people longed to go back into their slavery there. He also faced danger from surrounding nations such as the Moabites, the Edomites and many others.
But Moses also faced the hidden dangers. Do you think he really expected that his own brother and sister would turn on him, questioning his authority and seeking to strip his God-given authority to lead the people? But the greatest of all the hidden dangers came when the Lord told him to speak to the rock in order to receive water for the Israelites. In anger, he struck the rock twice. The rock of living water that sustained Israel on their pilgrimage represented Christ, the Living Water who sustains us through the journey of life.
Because he struck the rock, instead of speaking to it as the Lord had commanded him, Moses was denied entrance into the promised land. He could only see the Promised Land from Pisgah, on the top of Mount Nebo. The principle of the fowler’s snare was at work, tripping him up as he struck the rock, rather than speaking to it as commanded by God. The penalty was severe, for as 1 Corinthians 10:4 points out, “they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.”
Other commentators believe that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write this Psalm. David also faced the obvious dangers. He faced a 9 foot giant, Goliath, decked out in full armor. From any human assessment the clear victor in that battle would be Goliath. David also faced many attempts on his life as he ran from Saul, who was like a raving lunatic, in his desire to do away with David, knowing that David had been promised the throne and would reign as king over Israel. David also faced many obvious dangers as he did battle with the Philistines, the Amalekites, the Ammonites and a host of others.
But then there was the hidden danger as well. It was a spiritual danger that ensnared him in the trap of lust, desire, adultery, and eventually murder as he arranged for the death of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. That whole tragic chain of sinful events began with one stroll on the Palace roof, one stroll on an evening that seemed, undoubtedly, peaceful and calm and yet would lead to such great misery and depravity as the chain reaction of his sin impacted so many lives.
It doesn't really matter who wrote the Psalm. It speaks of a reality that all of us can relate to. We get past the obvious dangers of life only to be tripped up by the hidden snare. We get past the lion only to step in the path of the serpent.
John Bunyan, in Pilgrim's progress, described how the leading character, Christian, saw many people running the wrong way on the path that led to the celestial city, to heaven. The people running away from the celestial city were terrified. They cried out, “There’s a lion ahead!” Christian himself almost ran, until he realized that the lion was chained. – But what happens when you get past the lion? There is the serpent, the cobra, the adder, the fowler’s snare, the random arrow that flies by day.
Great and Precious Promises
If this were all that the Psalm spoke about, what a depressing Psalm it would be! But it goes on to show that our strength in facing both obvious and hidden dangers is from God, who gives us a number of great and precious promises in this Psalm.
In verse 4 he promises to shelter us under his wings – “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” The imagery of being sheltered under the wings of Almighty God is the imagery of a protective bird, covering her defenseless young ones with her wings. It is not the imagery that most men are likely to invoke, but God gives us that imagery.
He gives us that imagery to impress upon our hearts and minds a visual picture of his compassion, love, and protection. Through that imagery he reminds us of his tender care and his powerful protection for those who believe in him, whether we face the obvious dangers of life or the hidden dangers, whether we face spiritual battles brought on by Satan as a lion, or the spiritual battles of Satan as a serpent. No matter what comes your way, if your faith is focused on the Lord, you will find refuge under the wings of Almighty God. God doesn't hesitate to compare himself to a mother bird protecting her young ones in order to encourage us when we face difficulties, hardships, trials and the temptations of life.
In verse 4 he goes on to promise that his faithfulness will be our shield and our rampart. The shield is vital in facing the enemy because it brings about a quick response to the attack of the evil one. Thus, we read in Ephesians 6:17 about the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God; it is to be used to refute the attacks of the evil one. That is one of many reasons why a daily study of God’s Word is so important throughout every day of the year.
Interestingly enough verse 11 and 12 of this Psalm were used by the devil – the only account in Scripture of him using the actual word of God to tempt – and he used these verses to tempt Jesus, when he had him on the top of the Temple and urged him to jump. He quoted from verse 11-12. Matthew describes it this way, in Matthew 4:5-6:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple.
“If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down.
 For it is written:
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,
and they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”
And you remember that Jesus refuted the devil by quoting Scripture back to him. Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy 6:16, “‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” Jesus used specific Scriptures to refute the devil, setting an example for us. Not only are we to faithfully read the word, but also we are to store it up in our memory, so that we can use it as the sword of the Spirit, to guard, guide and encourage us in the pilgrimage of life.
In addition to the shield, verse 4 speaks about the rampart (buckler, ESV). A rampart is a defensive wall around a castle, fort or settlement. It is similar to the fortress mentioned in verse 2. The Lord faithfully cares for his people. He equips us with both the sword of the Spirit and with his own protective care as a mighty fortress, rampart or buckler in which we find refuge. No matter what comes our way, we have the same confidence as the author of Psalm 46, who wrote:
God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
    God will help her at break of day.
Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
    he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our fortress.
A second promise is in verse 11: “for he will command his angels concerning you to guard you and all your ways…” You and I cannot begin to comprehend the spiritual warfare that rages all around us. Like Elisha’s servant, our eyes are often blinded. We see the obstacles put before us just as Elisha's servant saw the vast army of the Aramaeans (Syrians) surrounding him and Elisha. He was certain that they were trapped, doomed to destruction. But Elisha prayed that the servant’s eyes would be opened.
And when the servant looked again at the hills surrounding Dothan, he saw not only the army of the Aramaeans, but he saw the army of God, an untold number of angels protecting the servant and his master. And although you and I do not recognize angels when we see them, angels are so active in our lives that the author of Hebrews tells us to extend hospitality to strangers – which includes inviting people you don't know into your home – because some have entertained angels unaware by doing so (Hebrews 13:2).
There is no path that you take where God will not command his angels to guard you, for the promise of verse 11 is that “he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways…”
God’s Personal Intervention
However, it is not just the angelic realm that God commands to protect his people. God himself promises to intervene in your life and mine. Did you notice the six statements of what God promises to do in verse 14 to 16? Six times we read the phrase, “I will.”  God promises:
 “I will rescue him…
   I will protect him…
   I will answer him…
   I will be with him in trouble…
   I will deliver and honor him…
   With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
The skeptic says, “How can the Bible be true? He says he will command his angels to guard you in all your ways, but I’ve known young people, in the prime of life, who have died in tragic accidents. I’ve known others who were struck down with terminal illness, dying at a young age. If God really promises angelic guardians, if he promises to be our refuge and strength, if he really promises the six statements found in verse 14 to 16, why does he allow tragedy to strike? Obviously he must not be all powerful. Or, if he is all powerful, then he is simply not true to his promises,” the skeptic reasons.
Jesus gave the best answer. It is recorded for us in John 11:25, where at the tomb of Lazarus, before raising him from the dead, Jesus said to his sister Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”  And then he asked the question I also ask of you, “Do you believe this?”
It is only by believing in Jesus Christ alone for our salvation that we come to know these blessings and experience their fulfillment in our lives. To know these blessings, you must be able to personalize the Psalm, saying the statement of verse 2 from the heart: “I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.’” That statement, when it springs from our heart, is part of what it means to abide in Christ. You recall how Jesus said, in John 15:4, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.”
It is only by God's grace that we abide in him. As Philippians 1:6 puts it we can be confident of this: that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  It is the Lord who graciously and powerfully keeps us in his care so that no one can snatch us out of his hand. Part of the way that he does that is by giving us what theologians call, the “means of grace” - which includes prayer, Bible study, faithfulness in worship with God's people, with the proper use of the sacraments to strengthen us in our faith so that we do indeed abide in him with ever increasing love for him, acknowledging his name.
Perhaps you noticed the importance of the word “if” in verse 9 – “If you say, ‘The LORD is my refuge’ and you make the Most High your dwelling, no harm will overtake you, no disaster will come near your tent” (9-10). In the ESV the key word in verse 9 is “because.” – “Because you have made the LORD your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.”
The promises of this Psalm don't exclude us from the trials, hardships, and heartaches that are inevitable in life. In fact, many Scriptures point out that these trials have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:6). The Lord is glorified in our trials, not because he removes them entirely, but because his grace is sufficient for each trial. And when we look back upon our lives we will clearly see that it was because of his grace that we found him to be our strength when facing both the hidden and the obvious challenges of life.
The author of Psalm 91 recognized something that I’m sure you have experienced, as I have. In the pilgrimage of life, we face two types of dangers. We face obvious, visible dangers and we face hidden dangers that catch us by surprise. But through the trials of life God graciously commands his angels to guard us in all our ways, as he himself keeps us in the palm of his hand, under the shelter of his wings, rescuing us, protecting us and preserving us for his glory and our eternal good!  Amen!
Bulletin outline:
                   He will cover you with His feathers,
                       and under His wings you will find refuge;
                   His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
                                                                             Psalm 91:4
                                 “Under His Wings” 
                                     Psalm 91:1-16
I.   Throughout life, and in the new year, we will face two kinds of dangers, spiritually as well as
      1) Obvious and visible ones (3b, 5, 11)
      2) Equally dangerous, yet hidden dangers (3a, 5, 13)
II.  Our strength in facing both obvious and hidden danger is from God, who promises to:
      1) Shelter us under His wings, giving us His shield and rampart (fortress; buckler ESV) in
           which to find refuge (4)
      2) Command His angels to guard us in all our ways (11-12)
      3) Rescue, protect, and deliver us Himself (14-15)
III. To know these blessings, you must be able to personalize the Psalm, saying: “I will say of the
       Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust’” (2, 9)


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Ted Gray

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