Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 121
In this sermon we will focus our attention on Psalm 121 as we consider 2019 and look forward to celebrating the coming of the New Year in a few more days.
Psa. 121:0 A SONG OF ASCENTS.
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
2 My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
4 Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
6 The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
Psa. 121:7 The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
8 The LORD will keep your
going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore.
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
Psalm 121 is one of the most well-known psalms in the Bible. It is one of the first psalms I learned to sing in in the Andes Mountains of Peru as a missionary kid. We would sing it at church, at youth group, at campfires, on hikes and when we felt discouraged. It was a psalm that always lifted my spirits and reminded me of God’s protection.
This psalm is considered a prayer of protection, a psalm of ascent. It is a prayer given for someone like a pilgrim who was about to embark on a journey.
As you look at the text, you note that the psalm goes from first person to second person. This makes some theologians think that perhaps the psalm was a sort of dialogue between two people speaking back and forth. You can almost picture someone walking alongside the pilgrim up until a certain point and then sending him off on his journey with these words.
Some picture this scenario with the pilgrim starting to become fearful of the journey ahead and asking where his help comes from. The friend, in response to the pilgrim’s fear or concern, responds to him with words of encouragement, saying things like, “He who keeps you, will not let your foot be moved.” God will keep you safe – he won’t let anything happen to you.
It can be helpful to see in the individual pilgrim a representation in him of all concerned pilgrims. After all, we are all sojourners, pilgrims journeying through this world until God carries us home.
As we look to a new year of service that God has called us to, we, like this pilgrim, need to be reminded of God’s words of comfort. As we anticipate the New Year, we need to be able to enter into it secure in God’s care.
In Psalm 121, God encourages his people by reminding us that he is our keeper.
I believe that he demonstrates this by showing us how he has protected us in the past, how he has promised to provide for us in the present, and how he will preserve us in the future.
God has Protected us in the Past
Google photos app – “they grow up so fast” – we often forget and need to be reminded of the past.
First we will focus on the fact that God often encourages us by reminding us of who he has been to us in the past. How he has protected us in the past.
Throughout history we see how God’s people continually reference God’s faithfulness to them.
God’s people are called to celebrate meals. When the people of Israel entered the promised land, they were to keep the Passover meals to look back. “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” (Ex. 12:26)
The people of God rose altars of remembrance and Ebenezers and we hear them saying, “Till now the LORD has helped us.” (1 Sam. 7:12).
God built into Israelite life, the importance of remembering. We are called to be a people who remember what God has done for us.
But why do we need to remember?
As we probably all know from experience, one negative experience can shape or sour one’s perspective of an entire event. If you have ever tried to do something like Disneyworld…you have heard a family turn to their kid and yell, “we are here to have fun!”
A family vacation can be going incredibly well for a week, and it can all spoil over a tense argument, sick children, lost luggage or a fender bender. Suddenly a happy memory is tainted. The difficulty tends to swallow up the sweet memories. We forget the good and remember the difficult. But inadequate or bad memories can damage one’s perception of reality. That is why it is important to remember things accurately. To remember that the God who has always been faithful is still faithful even though we’ve gone through some hardship.
One passage that seems to really highlight this reality is Elijah facing the prophets of Baal.
Let me explain:
If you recall the story, Ahab and the people of Israel are all turning to Baal. Elijah, God’s prophet challenges them. The 450 prophets of Baal vs. Elijah, the prophet of the God of Israel. Each are to choose a bull and call out to their respective deities. The God who answers by fire, he is God.
The prophets of Baal agree, and they call on Baal from morning until afternoon with no response. Elijah ridicules them and tells them to cry louder because maybe he is in the bathroom or perhaps he is asleep. They cried louder and cut themselves, but no one answers, no one pays attention. There is no voice. The prophets of Baal have been unable to call down fire from Baal, because he is a false god.
Then Elijah orders 12 jars of water to be poured over the altar. He prays, and the God of Israel answer. The passage says, “Then the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the burnt offering and the wood and the stones and the dust and licked up the water that was in the trench.
And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces and said, ‘The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God.’” And they seized the prophets of Baal and slaughtered them. Moments later, Elijah prays for God to end the 3 years of drought, and God sends rain. The next scene is yet another miraculous event where Elijah girds up his loins and outruns Ahab’s chariots! What?!
Literally three verses after these three spectacularly miraculous and divine events, where God shown forth in his glory and did exactly as Elijah asked, Elijah’s life is threatened by Jezebel. He suddenly forgets and hides for his life. From Jezebel.
Do you see how Elijah forgets God’s power? He is faced with immediate fear and uncertainty about his life and rather than trust in the God who just rained fire down from heaven and ended a three-year drought upon his very request, he now flees from a mere human being.
We observe this, and in our hearts we think of Elijah’s actions as absurd. How could he be so foolish? How could he not connect the dots and see that the God of the universe was on his side! How could he fear man when God has just answered all his prayers?
Elijah forgets, and we forget
Brothers and Sisters, we far too easily forget that God is with us. We see how he has provided for us throughout Bible history and in our lives and rather than remember his faithfulness, we focus on our immediate trials and difficulties. We sweat the small things that are in our immediate radius and forget how he has protected and kept us safe from certain disaster and danger throughout our lifetimes.
We remember a car accident, but we forget that God spared our life.
Our kids are sick with temperatures and stomach bugs and we cry out in frustration over seasonal illnesses and the tortures of the flu, but we forget that for some 345 days we were actually in really good health thanks to God’s provision.
Your stocks don’t do as well as you had hoped, and you forget to be thankful that you even have money to invest.
We complain that Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Video and all these new TV services need to get it together because we are getting “subscription fatigue” all the while forgetting that it was only a few years ago that we had to drive to a place called Blockbuster to get a movie!
We have become accustomed to complaining and have taken for granted the many, many blessings God has given us.
My youngest son had to have a very difficult cranial surgery. I easily remember the hardships of it, but I admit I sometimes take for granted that God was right there with us through that whole surgery, protecting us and keeping watch over his little life.
We forget about God’s goodness far too often.
In this Psalm we are reminded to look back. In v. 4 we are reminded to look.
“Behold” says the author. Behold, look! He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
God made a covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (later named Israel). To bless their offspring….to the ends of the earth and be with him. “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
God has kept his promise, he has been faithful to his covenant people throughout all generations. The God of Israel has never ignored his people or been unavailable to Israel. God swore his faithfulness and salvation, and not only to these men, but to all represented in them. To all the people of Israel.
This psalm of protection is not given just to an individual, but to all of Jacob’s descendants. (Hakham, 296).
God has promised us his care and protection. We are called to look back. To remember this.
God has not called us to live lives of anxiety and fear, “but of power and love.” (2 Tim. 1.7)
So how do we look back? How do we remember?
We remember the same way we first learned about God. Through the preaching of the word, the reading of the word and the sacraments and prayer.
Westminster Shorter Catechisms #88-90 remind us that
#88 “The outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, are his ordinances, especially the Word, sacraments, and prayer; all which are made effectual to the elect for salvation.”
#89 “…the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners…building them up in holiness and comfort through faith.”
#90 That the Word may become effectual to salvation, we must attend to it with diligence, preparation, and prayer receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts, and practice it in our lives.
In order to remember and look back, we must be first exposed to God’s word, we must attend to it with diligence, preparation and prayer, lay it up in our hearts and practice it.
Yes, and this is the time in the sermon, that as you guessed it, I am going to call you to be students of the Word. As we look forward to the new year, we need to be looking back.
Looking back to God’s word, attending to it with diligence, preparation and prayer. This is how we are built up in holiness and comfort.
There are Bible reading programs on paper, and there are Bible reading apps for phones, tablets, and now even on your ALEXA device! You can literally say, “Alexa, tell YouVersion Bible to read my Plan.”
Bible app plans exist that help us keep in immediate accountability and help us to push each other and sharpen one another towards reading together. There are so many ways to read and listen to the Bible.
I am gathering together a group of men in our church who will join me in this endeavor.
FPC [If you are wanting to join our Bible reading app plan, let me know and I will connect you.]
There is literally no excuse. We all need to be immersed in God’s word!
Present and future help – He is your keeper
If you are a normal human being, going to the top of a skyscraper building, going to the edge and looking down makes you fear for your life. Sometimes even watching videos of people doing crazy things on tops of buildings makes us nervous and tense.
Why do we fear for our lives when we look down off of high buildings? Because we can imagine falling off of them with nothing to stop us. Though we are not actually falling, we can picture it and it terrifies us.
Looking toward future concerns and worries, is not too different from looking down from a skyscraper. Looking toward the future often gives you the experience of fear and anxiety, without the comfort of God in that future imagination.
As you consider 2020, what are some things that bring you anxiety? Starting a new job, going off to college? A new venture? Significant change in life, or lack thereof. Health and finances?
Some worry about being useful or capable. Some of us worry about our children, or for grandchildren.
What about finding someone you love? Do you worry about your marriage? Do you worry about your parents? Maybe you weren’t worrying about any of these things, but now that I’ve brought them up, you are!
No, I’m confident that worry is a pretty natural response to life in this world.
If you haven’t noticed, worrying is in this psalm as well. V. 3 in says, “He will not let your foot be moved.…” In the NIV it says, “He will not let your foot slip….”
For those of you who are thinking about non-slip shoes right now, I assure you that v. 3 is not about basophobia or the fear of slipping.
“He will not let your foot slip” is a synecdoche for the whole person. It is a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole. For example, “all hands on deck” means all the crew, not just their hands should be alert and ready to work.
In the psalm here, we see a concern that God would give protection not just from slipping (though that can be a legitimate concern), but rather it represents the whole person – that God would protect the person from any problem along the journey.
You see, here the psalm does not downplay the potential of danger. The danger in life is real and it is hard. Our worries are based on real and genuine fears and realities that could bring us significant problems and difficulties in life.
In v. 6 there is an acknowledgement that there are things in the daytime and the nighttime that can bring harm. V. 7 shows that there is an expectation of evil seeking your life.
The concerns we have are legitimate. There is evil in the world, people do fall hard, whether physically, emotionally or spiritually. Life is certainly not easy and there is more than enough fear to go around.
If we could see all the dangers that could befall us, we would probably never leave our homes. We would be paralyzed in fear. And if we are honest, sometimes we are too fearful to do certain things. We know that things have gone badly in the past and so we worry about the future. We look to the future and we do not see God there, so we worry. We only remember the bad thing that has happened and not the 345 days where good and blessings were rained down on us by God’s grace.
Our fears and our anxiety can be handled in different ways.
We can turn inward to be better people. We can strive to do better in 2020. New efforts, new resolutions and new strategies. We will overcome the problems that are coming. We will do better and work harder. We will get better grades and focus more loving family and serving the church. This answers the question: From where does my help come from? From within!
We can turn upward as this Psalm does. My help comes from the Lord who made Heaven and Earth.
Psalm 121 comes in with full force. He who has kept Israel and guarded and protected her. The same God and creator of the heavens and the earth, this God is the same God who keeps you now and tells you that he is with you.
The God who came to Elijah’s aid in his mighty power speaks to you through this psalm and tells you that you are his.
God tells you that you don’t need to fear. He is with you always. He is watching over you even in the middle of your apparent impossible situation. He will keep you from stumbling, from falling into hopelessness. He will keep you in the midst of surgeries, cancer, accidents, solitude, illness and failure. He will not abandon you when you need him most because he never sleeps nor slumbers.
If you are God’s children, he has promised to keep you as you go out and when you are coming in. He has promised to be with you in the hardest times of 2020 and beyond.
But some of you have tasted the grief of death. Will he help us in death? Will he keep us in death? He will. From this time forth and FOREVERMORE. This is the promise.
He will be with you from this time and forevermore.
The same God who is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble, is the same yesterday, today and forever.
These two verses tell us that God has been, is today and will forever be our help and our keeper.
You see, God is a consistent and orderly God. He does not change. If he has been our keeper in the past, he will keep us in the present and future. Even if that future refers to our eternal future.
Six times in eight verses the Psalm reminds us that God is our keeper. God is not a temporal God who focuses on temporary things. He focuses on the eternal. He keeps us eternally!
Our protection, our well-being, do not depend on our abilities. You cannot protect yourself, you cannot turn one hair white or black, you cannot determine when you live or die. You cannot control your health, your situation. Your business or your education do not ultimately rest in your hands. Your country, your family and your income do not rest on you. Your children’s safety and protection. Your future and your new year do not depend on you. You and I are far too small. We are temporal. We are inadequate beings.
We cannot do these things which are easy, and how much more can we not do that which is impossible – saving ourselves. So why are we safe? Why can we depend on his keeping of us? We certainly don’t deserve it.
We must depend on someone who is beyond time. Who created time and who gives us life and can take it.
Our lives, our salvation and all we are, kept and guarded and protected because of God’s gracious covenant with his people. A covenant made through the blood of Jesus Christ for our salvation and ultimate protection.
Brothers and sisters, without Jesus, we are nothing. Without him, we are not reconciled to the Father, we are not part of Israel or kept from evil.
But with him, with Jesus, we are made pure, made righteous and holy. We are covered under the shadow of his wing, and all that we do in his name is guarded and secured.
Nothing can move us or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!
As we look and consider this past year, perhaps the things that have brought us most grief and pain are the things that stand out. They can cloud our memory and cause us to forget who God really is and what he has done. How he has cared for us in amazing ways we have taken for granted.
But as we turn to his word, we remember that he has protected us. He has watched over us. He has kept us from being swallowed up by sin and has kept our lives.
As we look to the past and see God’s faithfulness in being our protector, we realize, as we look to the future, that he who was our protector in the past is the same God who is our present and future keeper as well.
With this in mind, we can move confidently in God’s grace and power, knowing that he who created all things will keep us in our going out and our coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
 Allen P. Ross, 612.