The Second Wednesday in Lent
February 24, 2010
Text: Psalm 91:9-16
Dear Friends in Christ,
“Bring out your dead, bring out your dead...” It’s a line that’s become something of a joke, but when it was in fact spoken, it was a grim business indeed. In late medieval cities during the frequent outbreaks of bubonic plague, men would go through the city each morning with carts, calling out, “bring out your dead”. They would do this because people were dropping dead so fast that there was nothing else they could do. The bodies had to be buried quickly. Could you imagine, in one of our small, north Wisconsin villages burying a dozen or more people a day? But this was reality for the people of western Europe in the Middle Ages. It’s terrible what happens to non Christian people. Wouldn’t it be better if they were Christians and God would then protect them from the plague. Oops, they were Christians, weren’t they? But doesn’t our text say that God will protects us from plagues? Or isn’t God powerful enough to counteract bad sanitation, rats and fleas?
So how do we understand these words of the Psalmist? We don’t even know who he was. Psalm 91 was written anonymously. We have to understand plague in divine terms. Let’s say for a moment, a man lived his life with faith in name only. Oh, he knew what God says, but he lived carelessly, he abided in his sin. Perhaps he didn’t want to give up his sins. But then he is struck with a terrible illness and he knows that he is about to die. The man turns to God. Perhaps he even seeks pastoral care. So was that a plague or a blessing? You see God does not look only at this life. God takes the long view. He looks to eternal life. So if it takes a terrible illness to bring a man to the point where he has saving faith, God sees the illness as a blessing. On the other hand, if a man has great wealth, power, good health, many friends and the like, he might well turn from God. In which case, great wealth was a curse.
In Scripture, many will point to Abraham, Job, and perhaps even Jacob as examples of people that God blessed with great wealth because they were faithful to God. But Solomon was also blessed with great wealth and Scripture makes it clear that for him, the wealth and power was a curse. It went to his head and he turned to false gods. So wealth, or good health, or any of these earthly things must not be seen as blessings in themselves. But rather as things through which God can bless us. The true blessing is faithfulness to God. To the extent that earthly blessings or curses contribute to our remaining faithful, they are true blessings indeed.
It has become fashionable for television preachers to preach was it called the prosperity to gospel. If you have enough faith God will bless you with wealth, a good spouse, children, prestige, and so forth. I guess I must not have enough faith, though I must admit I do have the good spouse part. Of course such preaching is nonsense. It is a twisting of Scripture. What did Christ say of the man born blind? He was born blind so that the glory of God might be revealed. So you see God’s view of blessings and curses is far different than ours.
So how should we look at Psalm 91. It is a description of God’s saving and protecting work. He does send His angels to guard us. He does protect us evil and keeps plagues from us. He does allow us to dwell in Him. But these are protections from sin, the devil, and even against our own sinful flesh. This is a hidden protection. Who knows, perhaps poor Lazarus would have been as hard hearted as the rich man in the parable, if he were rich. So Lazarus’ poverty could well have been God’s means of blessing him with faith. But we can be assured that we have God’s protection. He will protect His own. In the Gospel of John, Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd” and He says that no one snatches His sheep from His hand. This is the protection that we are promised in the Psalm. Notice verse 14 where it connects God’s saving power with the knowing of His Name. Now here is where translations fail us. But if you are old enough, you might have a bit of a clue. What does it mean to know in the Biblical sense? To have sexual relations - you know how the old King James translation rendered the Hebrew - Jacob lay with his wife, and he knew her, and she conceived. To know, as this is used in the Bible, is more than mere head knowledge. It is to be intimate with, to trust in it, and so forth. So one know knows the Name of the Lord, is a believer, one who trusts in God. And those who trust in God will be protected from all those things that will cause them eternal harm.
Psalm 91 is a psalm of assurance. It reminds us that God does indeed protect us from danger. But God’s view of danger is different than ours. God may end our lives in a violent manner, such as a car accident. But God will preserve us safe in His kingdom. He gives us faith to believe and draw us closer to Him. It may not look like protection in an earthly sense. It may not look like a blessing in an earthly sense. But it is protection and blessing in an heavenly sense. All things considered, isn’t it better to be blessed eternally? Isn’t that what really counts?