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As we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness with all of its inherent struggles it is God the maker of heaven and earth who is our helper.

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The Last in the Quarantine Series

Palm 121: The Last in the Quarantine Series
I have been told by those who know these things that one is not suppose to start a speaking engagement with an apology. But I feel that I have to apologize to you mothers. I know that it is Mother’s Day and I have already expressed my gratitude to mothers. I did not forget what day it is. However, I am not going to preach a Mother’s Day sermon. You know that I struggle with those sermons anyway and I saw a means to escape the necessity and I took it. We have not met together since March the 15th. I have preached a sermon each Sunday on the internet but there are those who do not have internet and could not listen in, but some of you remember every word I preached because everyone remembers every sermon they ever hear. But let me just remind you what we have been looking at. In the first two weeks we finished our look at 1 John. The next week was Palm Sunday then Resurrection Sunday. From that point, April 19, I didn’t want to start a new series from 2 John so I started what I call the Quarantine Series. I had 4 sermons in mind for the series. The first was Matthew 6:24-34 in which we looked at 6 reasons Jesus gives us not to worry and one thing to do in place of worry; Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Then next week we took a broad look at the Book of Acts and the struggles that the Apostles had while seeking first the kingdom of God by spreading the Gospel. And in that we looked at what keeps us seeking first the kingdom of God in the face of sure struggles looking Philippians 1:12-26. Then last week we took a look at Habakkuk and Romans 8:16-25 discussing why we continue moving ahead in seeking the kingdom of God and His righteousness in the face of the struggles of this world. This leads us to our sermon for this morning the last of the Quarantine sermons in this series. We will be looking at Psalm 121 attempting, no not attempting but answering the question: In the face of all the struggles as we seek first the Kingdom of God where does our help come from? Let’s pray seeking the God of our help.
The Psalms as a body of Scripture if divided into 5 books. I am not going to break that down for you this morning because of time; perhaps someday we will do a study of the Psalms as a whole. But within book 5 there is a subset of Psalms known as the Songs of Ascents. It begins at Psalm 120 and continues through Psalm 134; 15 Psalms. At the top of each of these Psalms are the words A Song of Ascents. King David wrote 4 of them and his son Solomon wrote 1 and the rest are anonymous. Each year the people of Israel were required by the Law of Moses to go to Jerusalem for three holy occasions; Passover (unleavened bread), Feast of weeks (Pentecost) and Tabernacles (feast of booths). The reason these are called the Songs of Ascent is because as the people would be traveling to Jerusalem for these required festivals they would sing these songs as they would “go up” to the house of the Lord. The tunes of the songs have been lost in antiquity but these songs were sung along the way, and after they arrived in Jerusalem, for the purpose of preparing their hearts to meet with their God at the Temple. They were literally on their way to meet with God and these Psalms were tools used to focus their minds on God, the maker of heaven and earth. Kind of like us singing our hymns before we begin the preaching part of worship. With that explanation let’s go ahead and read our passage for this morning. Remember they are on their way to meet with God.
Psalm 121 1I will lift up my eyes to the hills—From whence comes my help? 2My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. 3He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4Behold, He who keeps Israel Shall neither slumber nor sleep. 5The Lord is your keeper; The Lord is your shade at your right hand. 6The sun shall not strike you by day, Nor the moon by night. 7The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.[1]
Just a quick geography lesson before we dig into the passage. Jerusalem and especially the Tempe itself was built on the highest hill in Judea. So no matter from which direction you were traveling you had to go through the hills of Judea to get to the Temple, the symbolic dwelling place of God. In this psalm the writer and the people as they are traveling look to hills before them. In the King James Version this is almost stated in a way that causes us to think that the hills bring us safety; the hills is “from whence cometh my help”. Almost like God is waiting in the hills to save or protect them. But I think that the KJV translator missed that one and possibly for good cause because perhaps they were thinking of the hill of Zion or the Temple mount. But while they were traveling, on their way to worship at the temple in Jerusalem the hills or the mountains were where the thieves and marauders lived. It was where the lions and the bears were, where the swift mountain streams ran where crossing was hazardous, and the roughest terrain was in the mountains. So as they are traveling looking ahead of themselves to the mountainous terrain and its dangers they were saying; we are headed through the most dangerous part of the journey “where is my help going to come from?” We need to make sure of something here, especially right now with the threat of the corona virus still around, acknowledging the danger or the threat in a situation is not the same as fear and worry. The people are simply recognizing that there is danger in them thar hills and they are going to need help.
But it is not like the psalmist doesn’t know the answer to his question, he knows full well where his help comes from because he immediately proclaims; “My help comes from the Lord who made everything.” Every danger, every trial and hardship occurs in this world that the LORD Himself made and He is the One who supplies the help. Let me put it this way: The perils of this life, the dangers may be unknown to us but the provider of security is known; He is certain. In a psalm that comes just a little later, Psalm 124 we see this: 1“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,” Let Israel now say— 2“If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, When men rose up against us, 3Then they would have swallowed us alive, When their wrath was kindled against us; 4Then the waters would have overwhelmed us, The stream would have gone over our soul; 5Then the swollen waters Would have gone over our soul.” 6Blessed be the Lord, Who has not given us as prey to their teeth. 7Our soul has escaped as a bird from the snare of the £fowlers; The snare is broken, and we have escaped. 8Our help is in the name of the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. Clearly the psalmist and the people who sang this psalm while traveling to worship knew where their help came from.
In verses 3-4 of our Psalm this morning the psalmist makes the statement that He will not allow your foot to be moved. He is not going to allow you to fall off the edge of the cliff or better said He is not going to lose you along the way no matter how rough the terrain gets. He is not going to be sleeping on the job. The pagans were always concerned about having to wake up their gods; they did all manner of thing to keep their god’s attention. They had to make sacrifices at the winter solstice to make him comfortable for his winter sleep then at the spring solstice they had to sacrifice again to wake him up. Remember Elijah on Mt. Carmel when he taunted the priests of Baal to be louder because their god may be asleep. The One who keeps you does not go to sleep on the job. But look at verse four, the psalmist makes it clear that the awareness of their Helper, God, is not just for the individual but it is for all of His people (Israel). The writer is making it very clear that God, who is their helper, keeps His watch on all His people under all situations. There is not a moment, a second, an instant that the people of God are outside of the view of God. That can be very reassuring or it can be very convicting. I’ll let you deal with that.
Verse 5 goes along very well with verses 3-4 because not only is the Lord, the helper of His people, always awake and responsive to His people’s needs but He is with them. He is your shade at your right hand. All the other gods out there, if they could be woken, could see what was going on but none of them were present to help their worshipers. But our God who is our helper and keeper is ever present with you, with me and with all His people on a personal level.
Verse 6 I think is very important. We have to remember that the Psalms are poetry so we have to realize that the expressions are often symbolic in nature and this is borne out in verse 6. The sun was a very real and present danger in the wilderness of Palestine. It could dehydrate you with its heat, you could suffer from heat stroke or from serious exposure to the sun. This was a real danger that God, the Lord, would help His people with. The moon on the other hand wasn’t really a danger but when the moon was up in the night the other dangers could not be seen because of the darkness and there could be unseen tragedies just outside the tent. I believe the psalmist is reminding us that the ever present Lord, the Helper of His people protects and keeps us from obvious dangers and from perceived dangers. Often during the daytime hours we can go about our business doing what we do, being observant to our surroundings, thus avoiding dangers that are seen. But at night when we go to bed often those things that we dismissed while we were busy during the day come and begin to “threaten” us. It is so easy to fret and worry about those things that may be. I believe the psalmist is reminding us that it is the Lord who sustains us, keeps us through the real threats and the perceived threats.
Then in verses 7 and 8 we see that our Helper, the Lord, preserves us in our personal lives and our eternal lives, in our daily lives and for eternity. 7The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. 8The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore.[2] I love the way the psalmist moved us from today to eternity. I have probably said it a thousand times, if all we have for security is the sweet bye and bye then what do we have to proclaim to people around us today who do not believe and are suffering? The sweet bye and bye is comforting but we need some preservation for today and I think this is made plain here in these verses. He is our preservation as we struggle with the evils of the day, as we move through this mountainous terrain day by day but He is also our eternal preservation.
So let me see if I can recap this very quickly because there are a couple of things I want to look at in reference to application. As the people of God were traveling towards meeting with their God for the purpose of worship they knew that there were dangers and hardships ahead. I can almost see someone at the head of the group shout out: Look, there are mountains where are the struggles await us, who is going to help us through? Then the rest of the people behind him shout out: My help comes from the Lord who made everything. As they travel through the hardships they wanted their hearts and minds focused on their helper not their trials and struggles. They wanted to remember that He does not lose His people along the way because He never takes His eyes off of individuals or the entirety of His people. He not only has His eyes on them but He is present with them helping them through the actual dangers that come their way and the perceived dangers that would tend to worry them taking their mind off of Him. He preserves His people personally and eternally, in their daily lives and in their eternal lives.
So what does this have to do with us? How do we apply this today to our lives? We are no different than the Hebrew people headed towards the temple, the symbolic dwelling place of God except that our destination is not symbolic. Our goal is to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteous knowing that in the end we will be in His presense. As we have noted the last few weeks there are struggles and trial along the way, hills if you will. Where will our help come from? Is our helper going to get us to our destination? Is He paying attention to our struggles both real and perceived? Is He with us in our travels to worship Him? Is He preserving us for today in our day to day lives and for eternity with Him? Well our answer is right here in this psalm. Our help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth. But (there is that word again) what about in the middle of a pandemic that is killing people? I tried to find a diplomatic or politically correct way of saying this but I just can’t do that so here is the harsh truth spoken as plainly as I can. People have been dying since creation fell due to man’s rebellion against God. And people will continue to die as long as this fallen creation continues. Does that mean we do nothing to mitigate death and hardship? We as believers should do everything possible to comfort and protect all life. We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But if your trust in maintaining your life is in a mask that you wear, or in sheltering in place or in the government who tells you when it is safe to come out then your trust is in the wrong place. Before you shut me down and quit listening I need you to hear the rest. That does not mean that I am telling you not to wear masks or if you wear masks you are afraid and not trusting God, I wear one when I go out for the safety of others. I’m not telling you that you should not minimize your contact with people and if you do you are not trusting God, I stay home as much as possible to minimize contact. I don’t know if someone else is infected and I don’t know if I am. And if you feel that you need to stay in longer then by all means stay home, I support you completely. God is our help in certain danger and in perceived or possible danger. I’m not telling you that you should disobey civil government, I am doing the best I can to do what the government requires. What I am saying is if your trust is in anything other than the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth, then you are placing your trust in the creation, or created things and not in the Creator, the preserver of His people. It is kind of like this; (this is the best analogy I could come up with in my pea brain) wear your seat belt but trust the Creator and Sustainer of His people to plant you firmly at your destination not the seat belt. As I said earlier: The perils of this life, the dangers may be unknown to us but the provider of security is known; He is certain.
The other application I want to make is this. The people of Israel journeyed to Jerusalem in groups. Villages would band together and travel together. Family groups would travel together. They were individually on the journey together. Some of those who traveled together may have been more concerned with robbers than with flooded streams because they were good swimmers where some could not swim. Some could have been more concerned with the rough terrain because of infirmities where others had no health issues at all. On the way we can be certain that they helped one another whenever danger or perceived danger approached. They trusted in the Lord but they served one another while the Lord preserved them. We must be no different as the people of God. I do believe that sometimes God does work in supernatural ways to preserve His people. He heals supernaturally and He provided supernaturally. But more often and most often, He provides using you, and you, and you and me in serving and supporting one another as we all journey, seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness in the midst of the rough terrain, the thieves and marauders, the overflowing creeks, the wild animals, the disease and the financial struggles. Trust the Lord as your helper but serve one another.
I want to close with another Psalm: Psalm 46 1God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;3Though its waters roar and be troubled,Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah 4There is a river whose streams shall make glad the city of God, The holy place of the tabernacle of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved; God shall help her, just at the break of dawn. 6The nations raged, the kingdoms were moved; He uttered His voice, the earth melted. 7The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah 8Come, behold the works of the Lord, Who has made desolations in the earth. 9He 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. 10Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! 11The Lord of hosts is with us; The God of Jacob is our refuge.
Selah[3] Let’s pray.
[1] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 121). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[2] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 121:7–8). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
[3] The New King James Version. (1982). (Ps 46:1–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
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