Theme: God’s Presence = Protection
1) When you lack control
2) When you lack power
3) When you lack righteousness
Psalm 46 <To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of the sons of Korah. A Song for Alamoth.> God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6 The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. 7 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. 10 Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11 The LORD of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
One thing we don’t often talk about with the Reformation is the architecture. That time in both European and World history was known for some of the most beautiful, complex, and enduring forms of construction. This is well-evidenced in the numerous castles that remain to our present day, including the one in which Martin Luther hid as he was condemned by the Roman papacy, the Wartburg castle.
I’ve included a few pictures of these castles in your bulletin as examples of what I’m talking about. When I see these magnificent structures, even just pictures of them, I’m immediately impressed by the location. Many of them appear to be on the tops of mountains or right on the edge of a daunting cliff-face. You can see why these types of landscapes were chosen. They would be nearly impossible to assault, even more so from multiple fronts. In many cases, the castle had one main entrance, making it known from the start where an enemy invader would have to assault.
Martin Luther penned the famous hymn of Reformation, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” from the words of Psalm 46, where the Lord is likened to a refuge for believers, a fortress of sorts. Just as the many Germanic castles that Luther surely would have had in mind, and in which he himself found refuge, there is only one way into God’s mighty fortress. For those who would peaceably walk the path to that entrance, the one way comes through Jesus alone. As the words of our Psalm echo over and over again, the key is that we have God’s presence with us: “The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.” To have God’s presence is to have God’s protection, to be in His kingdom and to be sheltered by the enduring walls of His grace.
And to be with God, is to be with His Son, Jesus, who Himself taught this very same. In John 10 Jesus likened His Father’s kingdom to something a bit different than a castle, yet with the same meaning and substance. Jesus said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. "All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. (John 10:7-9).
There is only one way, one path, whether we think of God’s kingdom as a sheepfold or as a castle. Jesus is that way. The purpose of the Reformation was to restore this truth to the world. Life with God is not a matter of works that we accomplish, gifts we offer, or decisions we make in His name. It is all about Jesus and what He did for us freely upon a cross outside of Jerusalem. To have Jesus, is to have God, and to have God is to have protection. As our psalm continues, this is first of all protection from that which is out of your control.
It’s easy to be self-reliant when you have things figured out. To put it another way, it’s easy to trust in yourself when you’re up against something you can control. Our Psalm states immediately what the believer’s hope is: a God who is present with us and who is a refuge and strength. With Him in our lives we have no need to fear. But, we also see what kinds of troubles God helps us overcome: though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; 3 Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.
These are not your ordinary, everyday, run-of-the-mill types of issues. Is the psalmist being literal or figurative with these words? It’s possible that they may be metaphors for the various storms of life that are beyond us but it’s also possible that they are literal scenes from the final day of Judgment. Either way, God is our refuge and strength. Either way, we do not need to fear because God is with us.
Whether we think of some natural disaster in present time or the impending destruction of this world, we have hope if we trust that God’s presence is with us. That’s why the psalmist states that not only is God a refuge and a strength, He is a “very present help in trouble.” To have God’s presence is nothing less than having Jesus by faith. As Jesus said, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him (John 14:23).”
We face many things in life that are beyond our control. Certainly matters of eternity are outside of our power. But, even the day-to-day matters of life. An unexpected bill; a severe medical problem; internal strife among relatives, uncertainty about school or a new job, whatever it may be; if you have God’s presence with you, you’re protected.
A beautiful picture of that presence and protection comes in the following verses. There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. Think about what happens if a castle is put under siege by the enemy. One of most precious resources for survival is obviously going to be water. The Bible actually records a story about this very thing that happened in Israel’s history. During the reign of King Hezekiah, Jerusalem was surrounded by the Assyrian army; the very same group that had just prior to that captured the northern kingdom of Israel. Before the siege, to prepare for what loomed ahead, Hezekiah oversaw the construction of a network of tunnels which would bring fresh water into the city. Without that, Jerusalem surely would have fallen.
In our text, God’s presence among His people is likened to a stream which flows through a prospering city. As water gives life to our mortal bodies, so God gives life to our souls. Jesus spoke in this manner as well by making the promise that His words were a water to quench any need for eternity. He told the Samaritan woman at the well, “the one who drinks shall never thirst again.” Even heaven itself is described in the same manner. John records what he saw in His vision of the eternal kingdom of God: And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. 2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations (Revelation 22:1-2).
This river of life, symbolic for the Word of God, helps us when we lack power. This need is mentioned in the psalm as when we are confronted by forces within this world that are stronger than we are. Specifically brought to mind are kingdoms of the world who rebel against God’s will. When the believer is up against worldly powers that seek to undermine God’s Word and that would persecute faith in Jesus, there is hope in the presence of God through the water of life.
We see the Reformation come into view here once again. It was the Holy Roman Emperor, supreme authority in Europe at that time, who tried to suppress the efforts of God’s reformers. Luther was captured by his friends and taken to the Wartburg castle precisely for protection. He had become an outlaw of the throne simply for speaking God’s Word. Many who blazed the path for Luther provided the ultimate sacrifice of a martyr’s death.
One of the very reasons Luther spoke out directly against the Roman Catholic papacy was because it had morphed into a hybrid spiritual-political entity. The popes were taking up the characteristics of secular rulers who “raged” against the Word of God. This process was about control of the people. To accomplish this the Word of God was only used in the public church services. One was required to come before the official Catholic priest in order to receive God’s forgiveness. Regular services were performed in Latin, a basely tradition which kept the people in the dark about God’s true teachings. Church became more about being “in the club,” rather than freely sharing God’s presence in His Word with everyone. Faced with such dire circumstances, out of one’s own control, many grew desperate. But as the Word of God spread, so did His presence among His people, as well as a clear labeling of the unscriptural abuses and a reform of the same.
The greatest abuse that can be committed against God is to supplant His glory. This, too, was at the heart of the Reformation, as we remember how it restored the true teaching of justification by faith in Christ. It shouldn’t surprise us in any way that this was also on the thoughts of the psalmist. The desire to claim credit for life and salvation is inherent to the sinful human heart. It rears its ugly head in all generations and nations of the world.
As Psalm 46 reaches its climax and conclusion, the Holy Spirit directs our thoughts to God’s works. Come, behold the works of the LORD, Who has made desolations in the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. The result of God working in our lives is that we would have peace. The need for a refuge subsides when peace exists. The psalm describes the scene as the ending of a war, where weapons are dismantled and danger fades away. This is the peace of forgiveness. But, the foundations of that peace are set in our hearts in a way we might not expect. We’re told that in order to bring this peace, God makes “desolations” in the earth. This desolation is God’s judgment of sin, and it certainly convicts the unrighteousness in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit is teaching us to repent of sin and trust in forgiveness through Jesus. This is the purpose of God’s judgment. It is tough on sin as it should be and because we’re sinners it’s tough on us. But, it brings peace. Without repentance there is no lasting peace against the enemies of our faith. God’s allows desolations to come into our lives for the purpose of helping us see the futility of our own righteousness before Him. As Isaiah wrote, our good works are “filthy rags” in the Lord’s sight. As we read from Romans, the wages we have earned through our actions count as death, not life. Luther famously said that God doesn’t need our good works, our fellow humans do. And as we read from Galatians, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. The life we live by faith (our righteousness) is an effect of what Jesus has done for us already, not the cause of our salvation.
Here comes the climax of our section and the most well-known verse of this psalm. What does God tell you when you stand before Him lacking the righteousness He demands? He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” This is a call to repentance. God wants us to confess our sins at the sight of our actions and with the knowledge of His holy desolations in the earth. There is nothing that stands against God and survives. He controls the uncontrollable in nature. He laughs at the raging of the kingdoms and nations against His Word. And He sees through the hollow righteousness of our thoughts, words, and actions. Truly, He will be exalted among the nations and in the earth.
But, repentance is more than just confession of sin. It is also humble, child-like, Spirit-wrought faith in Jesus as Savior. God says it all, “Be still and know Me.” Stop running. Stop fighting. Stop trusting in yourself. There are things in this life that are too much for you. This is what breaks the sinful human will. It is the inescapable reality which we all must face at some point. And it is troubling indeed. But, it is not the only truth.
Our psalm’s refrain is this: “The LORD of hosts is with me, the God of Jacob is my refuge.” God calls for us to be still, but also for us to “know Him.” He is ours, we know Him by faith not by sight, because He is with us through His Word. And where He is, there is protection from anything threat. This is Christ, and He was brought back to mankind through the Reformation. A complete Savior for an incomplete people. Our bold confession as a Lutheran Church and as members of the God’s fortress.
“The LORD of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge and strength.”
Therefore, we will not fear.
Therefore, we will drink freely of the water of life.
Therefore, we will behold His works.
Therefore, we are still and we know that He is God.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.