The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, CA is one of the most spectacular suspension bridges in the world. It spans 8,981 feet between its two abutments. When the bridge was being constructed in the early-to-mid 1930’s, several workers lost their lives when they accidentally fell from 220 feet above the water. As you might expect, progress on the bridge slowed down and eventually the project got off schedule. That is, until someone came up with the brilliant idea of putting a safety net under the bridge. Then, if a worker did happen to fall, he wouldn’t tumble to his death rather he’d be caught by the net.
(Just a quick side note. There were at least 19 men whose lives were saved by the net, and they formed a club they called the Half Way to Hell Club.)
So, for the first time in the history of major construction a net was used as a safety measure. The cost of the net was $100,000, which was rather staggering considering it was shortly after the Great Depression. Nevertheless, the effect was immediate and noticeable. Work proceeded at a much faster rate and the bridge was actually completed ahead of schedule. All because the workers knew that if they slipped the net would catch them and their lives would be spared.
A similar thing is happening in our world today with COVID-19. Life is proceeding as normal, and then this virus comes on the scene and people start dying – some rather quickly, and those that don’t die are spending more and more time in critical care. So, naturally, cities and regions and entire countries begin to slow their pace, and we find ourselves today some 2-3 weeks in near gridlock.
All the while, doctors and nurses and caregivers are working to care for the sick and vulnerable, and researches and chemists and scientists are working to find a cure. Why? Because there’s something deep inside all of us that longs to know were secure, we’re safe. We want to know that if we do get diagnosed with COVID-19 there’s a safety net, there’s a vaccine, that our lives would be spared.
For the writer of Psalm 91, God’s sovereignty had the same effect. His security was anchored in God alone. God was the One who would protect him from the harm that surrounded him. It was the incomparable sovereign security of God that allowed him the freedom to move forward in life with confidence.
For many of you, especially those of you that are singers and musicians, the words of this psalm are the basis for a song titled On Eagle’s Wings by Father Michael Joncas. And this morning, as we conclude a rather tense and anxious and chaotic few weeks (hoping that tomorrow will bring promise for brighter days), I want to encourage us once more to trust God, to put our faith and hope in the One who knows our coming and going, the One who numbered our days before we were even born, the One who touched the leper, restored sight to the blind, made the lame to walk and demons flee, and the only One who is able to cure a sinful heart.
So, if you haven’t already, let me invite you to take your copy of God’s Word and turn with me to Psalm 91. The historical background of this psalm (unlike last week) is uncertain. The author (unlike last week) is anonymous. But regardless of the setting, the message is clear. If you know the Lord, Jesus Christ, as your personal Savior, then your security is found in His character, care, protection and love. Follow along as I read these beautifully poetic words, and just allow the reading of the Scriptures to minister to your soul.
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely He will save you from the fowler’s snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone. You will tread upon the lion and the cobra; you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the LORD, “I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my Name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.”
Now isn’t this one of those psalms that you want to read when you’re facing tough times? God has used the Psalms to bless His people time and time again over the centuries. It’s a perfect reminder of why the Psalms is such a beloved Book. And, as usual, I want to offer us three truths from this psalm to hold on to in these trying and difficult times. The first is that we put our faith in a powerful God.
Faith in a Powerful God
Our Men’s and Women’s Bible studies recently went through a series on the names of God, and the psalmist uses three (3) of those names in these opening two verses. The first is Most High, which is El Elyon in the Hebrew. It’s a name that emphasizes God’s strength and sovereignty. The second was Almighty, which is El Shaddai – a name that pictures God as the active, self-existent One. And the last name is God, or Elohim, the strong, mighty, supreme deity.
Now don’t get too confused by all the names. It wasn’t the writer’s intention to impress us with all the knowledge he had concerning God’s character. Rather, he’s using a poetic feature that was used in many of the psalms. See, saying essentially the same thing in more than one fashion was a way of highlighting something important.
The image that comes to mind here is when Moses asked to see God’s face (Exodus 33). You remember that story. God grants Moses’s request, but He tells Moses that he can’t see His face and live. So, God hides Moses in the cleft of the rock, and God puts His hand over Moses’s face until He passes by. Only then can Moses see God’s backside. That’s the picture in these opening verses. At the end of the day, if you were going to be tested on the truth of this psalm, one of the things you would know for sure is that the person who dwells in the shelter of the Most High can expect to find God’s strong, sure protection.
In days that are filled with news reports of sickness and death and fear, this is what true faith is – committing yourself to God with full reliance on His ability to provide and protect. Here, the psalmist displays dynamic faith – a reliance upon God’s invincible might to be the refuge and fortress and security that he needs… that you and I need. We put our faith in a powerful God.
The second truth that we encounter is that we find favor from a protecting God.
Favor from a Protecting God
Now, I have to pause (ever so briefly) and make sure that you understand what IS and IS NOT being promised here. First, please don’t hear these verses as guarantees that you won’t get sick, that you won’t suffer injury, that you won’t have troubles and struggles and difficulties just because you’re a Christian.
Sure, there will be times when God supernaturally protects you and keeps things from happening. All of us have personal stories that include phrases like, “if I had been 1 minute earlier…” or “I happened to be in the right place at the right time…” or “it could have been a lot worse…” or “God just took care of me and protected me in that moment…” so we know that God can and will protect us.
But the Bible is also full of stories about godly men and women that suffered all kinds of trials and difficulties and even death. Jesus, Himself, said that we would have troubles in this world, but He would go on to say, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, ESV). Oh, and don’t think that because verse 13 talks about treading on lions and cobras that you can go down to the Greenville Zoo and climb in the lion’s den, or that you can handle snakes. This is metaphorical language.
No. The favor that’s spoken of here is best understood by considering all of the verbs that are used. God will “save” you (v. 3). He will “cover” you or “shield” you (v. 4). You won’t “fear” (vss. 5-6). There’s language that speaks of God’s safeguarding us, sheltering us, sustaining us, strengthening us, securing us. When all is said and done, our only sure shield and shelter and security and protection is found in the Lord, Jesus Christ. No matter how big and bad COVID-19 or whatever else follows it is, the God of the Bible is bigger and badder and remains in full control.
Finally, we see a picture of true fellowship with a personal God.
Fellowship with a Personal God
Notice that the person who’s speaking changes in verses 14-16. It’s no longer the psalmist. It’s God. If you genuinely love God, then you will be delivered. But I want to go one step further this morning. Look at verse 14 again. For those of you watching this sermon, for those of you hearing me today, I want you to notice that this rescue, this deliverance, this salvation results because you and I acknowledge God’s name.
For the Old Testament saints – for people like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Moses and David and all the rest – they were “saved” or deemed to be righteous by their faith in God. Jesus had not yet come onto the scene of human history. So, when you read verse 14 from the point of view of the psalmist, the name that’s being referred to is the name Yahweh or Jehovah, I AM that I AM. But for you and me… for the person living in the modern day… for us that name is the name of Jesus.
Don’t be fooled… Ultimate delivery and salvation from sin and death only comes to those who acknowledge the name of Jesus. You say, “Wait a second, I thought we were talking about God. I believe in God. Am I not saved?” This is where Christianity comes face-to-face with Theism. Christianity explicitly identifies Jesus as God. Jesus was God incarnate. Jesus was God in human form. All throughout the New Testament Jesus was equating Himself with the Father.
Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, gives this wonderfully expressive description of Jesus. Listen to how Paul describes Jesus, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He [Jesus] humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him [Jesus] to the highest place and gave Him [Jesus] the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, NIV).
If you flip to the very next book in your Bible (Colossians 1), Paul would word it this way, “He [speaking of Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him [that’s Jesus] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He [we’re still talking about Jesus] might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all of God’s fullness dwell in Jesus, and through Jesus to reconcile to Himself [God] all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through Jesus’ blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:15-20, NIV).
If you’re listening to me this morning and you’ve never made this connection… If you’re hearing this idea for the first time… Maybe you’ve been around religion and church enough to believe in God… Hear me out, this morning. All of those things were true for Nicodemus. Do you remember him? He was a Pharisee. He believed in God. He was familiar with the Old Testament scriptures. He knew his Torah. And yet, he came to Jesus with these puzzle pieces in his mind that he was trying to make sense of.
We know that you’re a man sent from God because nobody can do the things you’re doing if he wasn’t from God. And Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born again – that he must be born from above. And then we reach the climax of that encounter and Jesus offers these words that everybody knows:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” That’s usually where we stop, but let’s continue. “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18, ESV).
If you want any meaningful sense of lasting security and safety and protection and deliverance from the sickness and disease and death and sin in this world and in your heart, then you must acknowledge the name of Jesus. You must love Jesus above all else. You must surrender your mind and heart and life to His protection and safekeeping.