God is our refuge and strength (Part 1)

This Psalm gives two different messages from a single fact.

That fact is this:- God is the strength and hope of his people.

Looked at in the light of the New Testament, we can say that this fact is a fact only because of the life, death and rising again of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The two different messages are these:

1. God’s people should be comforted in this reality, even if they are in deep trouble.

2. God’s enemies should fear and re-think their opposition to God.

Title of this Psalm, which is just as much the word of God as the rest of the Psalm, is ‘A song for Alamoth’, that is for young women (or children) with high voices. It is like other victory songs in the Bible. For instance, the songs sang after the deliverance at the Red Sea under Moses, or after the victories of Saul or David.

These songs signalled that it is now safe. Children and young women may safely roam the streets because the enemy is defeated.

The victory that this Psalm celebrates came after a very distressing time in the past, but the song is an encouragement for God’s people for present and future troubles as well.

v.1 God is our refuge and strength, and very present help in troubles.

First of all we need to know who the real God is. He is not an idol (not a figment of our imagination). Rather he is the God who IS, the uncreated maker of all things, the almighty. God is the one who does as he pleases, who will be glorified.

This is a victory song that only Christians can enjoy, because only Christ brings people safely to God.

There is a sense in which God is saviour of all men as he is the source of life in anyone who has it. But this song is about an extraordinary deliverance of God’s own people, a rescue that goes beyond the here and now.

 v.2-3 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be removed and the mountain fall into the midst of the sea.

This is an unconditional lack of fear which extends beyond the here and now. This is shown by the fact that even the prospect of death or the actual event of death does not affect this fearlessness. Those singing this song have no need to fear ‘even though the earth be removed’, that is, even if our world comes to an end; even though we might lose everything here and now, we will not be afraid.

Why? Because God, who raises the dead is with us.

Consider what God had saved the Israelites from.

The Psalm was likely written of the Assyrian threat in the days of Hezekiah.  The Assyrians were not nice people. On  the walls of their own cities, they produced relief art of the devastation they caused to their victims.

No one had been able to resist or defeat the Assyrians. When the Psalm talks about the Mountains falling into the sea, it is probably speaking metaphorically. The mountains are cities (often build on high ground), and the seas refer to people – in this case the Assyrian armies. City after city had fallen to the Assyrians, and now they had come to Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah.

The Rhabshakeh, the spokesman for the Assyrian King, reminded Hezekiah of all the cities the Assyrian King’s armies had taken, and boasted that the God of Israel was powerless to save, as all the gods of the nations had failed, so would Jehovah.

Continued in Part 2

God is our refuge and strength (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1

v. 4-5 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of our God, the holy place of the tent of the most high. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.

The God who had adopted Israel was not like the gods of the nations. This God is real.

God’s people have refreshment that others cannot know; it is a confidence that extends beyond this life.

The temple, God’s holy place, was a standing symbol of God’s favourable presence and of his particular love to Israel, God’s people. The temple was a standing symbol of God’s mercy, of forgiveness, and of everlasting life.

The daily sacrifices pointed to a substitute for the sinner. The sinner deserves to die, but a substitute was provided. The animal sacrifices pointed to the coming of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that his own body was the true the temple (John 2:20-22), and that he was the effective sacrifice.

The salvation that the temple pointed to, and the one that Christ really brings, is unshakeable. For this reason, God’s people will not be moved — not terrified, not defeated or let down.

God is with us – Immanuel — God with us is the name the angel use to refer to Jesus before his birth.

God helps at the breaking of dawn:

Assyrian soldiers who had been besieging Jerusalem were killed in a night by the angel of  Lord.

It also was at dawn that the Lord Jesus rose from the dead, defeating then are there our great enemies, sin, death and Satan.

Here we need to note that the saving work of God, by which he rescues his people is also and at the same time the mean by which he defeats and subdues his enemies.

Nations raged against God (e.g., Rabshakeh/Sennacherib and the Assyrian army)

  • Their defeat was Israel’s salvation. Angel of the Lord is Old Testament code for Christ
  • What brought about Jerusalem’s salvation and their enemies defeat? God speaking; God fulfilling his word.

Same is true for all who trust themselves to God’s mercy in Christ Jesus. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus brought about our salvation, which comes to us by the word of  Christ and the renewing work of his spirit.

V. 7 God of Jacob, Lord of Armies. This is a reminder of his promise, his covenant to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saves for his own name’s sake; not because we were good, or loveable, worthy, but simply because God is pleased to show mercy.

V.8-9  God’s makes peace by ending the war — removing the enemy from the field

Warning to those who still oppose the God of Israel.

Look at what the Lord has done — the mightiest empire of the day humbled.

  • Their weapons were broken and scattered; their boosting was made to look ridiculous.
  • Sennacherib himself was gone; he who boasted that no God could withstand him — his power was broken and he was murdered by his own sons.

For us, the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ far out shines this extraordinary work of God in Israel’s history. Death was swallowed up in victory when Christ died and rose again. He won forgiveness and eternal life for his people. This hope in Christ cannot be lost.

The Psalm is also a call to repentance — a change of mind.

  •  To enemies of God, it is a call that they cease to make war against the only one who can save them.
  • To his people, it is a call they would cease to fear, even if the world be turned upside down.

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians — chapter 1 (Part 1)

Paul, together with Silvanus and Timothy, are writing to the Church in Thessalonica. The church could have been only be about a year or so old at the time. The church was going through difficult times, and Paul particularly wanted to encourage them to keep on as they had started.

Paul and his travelling companions had first come upon the Thessalonians after their time in Philippi.

In Philippi, Paul and Silas (Silvanus?) were arrested and beaten for helping a slave girl who was being exploited by her masters. They had spent a night in gaol with their feet in stocks, singing Psalms, until an earthquake threw the cell doors open. Then Paul kept the terrified gaoler from killing himself by assuring him that none of the prisoners had escaped.

The gaoler was amazed at Paul’s calmness and self-control. He saw that Paul had something that he did not have. He most probably heard the words of the songs Paul sang and he asked Paul what he must do to be saved. And Paul told him to “believe on (that is, trust himself to) the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, you and your household”.

The gaoler’s question, just like the rich young ruler’s question to our Lord Jesus about 20 years earlier, did not anticipate Paul’s sort of answer.

The Pharisaic Jew and the pagan gaoler both believed that they had to do something in order to appease an angry god or gods.  The Romans particularly saw their lives as a series of religious doings to avoid offending one god or other, or at least, to patch things up after each and every error. Both the gaoler and rich young ruler were wrong about the God who is.

The True God, the one who IS, cannot be bribed by sinful people, but He has acted decisively and mercifully to appease his own just and right anger at our sin. He sent his only Son to live, die and rise as a human being — to do for us what we would not and could not do for ourselves.

Paul writes to express his thankfulness to God for the Thessalonian Church and the people in it. It is God who is to be thanked if there are Christians anywhere. Without God’s deliberate action in Jesus Christ, there would be no church, there would be no Christians, there would simply be condemnation.

When Paul and Silas arrived in Thessalonica, they still had the wounds on their bodies from the beatings they had received in Philippi. Nevertheless, they spoke with conviction and power regarding Jesus Christ. That this Jesus is God’s appointed Saviour. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who rescues any who will trust him. Some believed, some did not. Those who did not hired a gang of thugs to break up the fledgling church by attempting to get Paul and Silas arrested or killed.

After Paul and his travelling companions left Thessalonica, Paul wrote them a letter:

Paul was thankful to God for them all, making mention of them in his prayers.

  • It is to God we may take our requests, but more than that, it is to him we can be unceasingly thankful.
  • It was God who saved them by Jesus Christ.
  • It is God who will keep them.

Ceaselessly recalling (before God and Father) their work of faith. Faith is hard, as Martin Luther once said. Why is faith hard?

  • A God who saves is not what is generally expected (remember what the gaoler expected, and the pleasant surprise he and his household got.)
  • The facts of Jesus’ Life are not ‘normal’ – His powerful deeds, his rising from dead would typically be dismissed out of hand (like Epicureans and Stoics would, see Act 17)
  • Opposition to Christianity was determined and nasty – (To believe that God really loves you in such circumstances requires real faith.)
  • Yet the Thessalonians believed!

Labour of Love (Love is hard work, too)

  • This not ‘tough love’ in correcting others.
  • Rather, it is loving those who are different from you (socially, ethnically, temperamentally different)
  • Loving the unlovely

Patience of Hope

  • Keeping your cool (remember Paul and Silas in Philippi)
  • Keeping on with the Gospel despite troubles and opposition
  • Keeping sight of the Glory to come. – i.e., This life is the worst it can get for a Christian, is the best it will ever be for a non-Christian.

All of these things (Faith, Hope and Love) were found in the people of Thessalonica because of God’s love to them through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Knowing (perceiving) your election by God.

God’s election is a central reason for thankfulness. The Thessalonians did not choose God, but God chose them before time.

This election produced an extraordinary change in the Thessalonians, but they were not chosen because they ‘would’ change. They changed because they had been chosen in Christ, and they had his saving work applied to them. This is what Paul goes on to say.

For, our Gospel did not come to you in word only…

Continued in Part 2

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians — chapter 1 (Part 2)

Continued from Part 1.

For, our Gospel did not come to you in word only…

Every word of the Bible is God’s word, and it remains God’s word whether people trust its statements or not. The Gospel comes to rebels — people who are at war with God. It comes to sinners.

  • Some believe, some don’t.
  • Those sinners who believe do so because they were chosen in Christ, and because of who Jesus is and what he has done for them.
  • Those sinners who don’t believe remain unbelieving because they are sinners and will not change.

but in power, by the Holy Spirit, and with much assurance.

Whose power? — the power of God the Holy Spirit. God had again acted for them, working faith, love and patience in them.

What sort of power? The same power that raised Jesus from the dead.

What effect — doubting, rebellious  sinners became utterly and happily convinced of God’s mercy to them in the Lord Jesus Christ. They trust the message and aim to live thankful lives in response to God’s goodness.

You became imitators of us and the Lord, just as you know how we were among you.

In what way?

  • Jesus went about doing good, making good news known, was hated by leaders and others, was beaten and killed. “For the joy set before him” he bore our sins.
  • Paul and Silas went about doing good, making good news known, were hated by leaders and others, were beaten and imprisoned — for the joy set before them; the joy of being saved.
  • Thessalonians heard what Jesus had done for them (received the word), saw how Paul and Silas had acted for them, and in response
  • went about doing good, making good news known, and were troubled and attacked by those who did not receive the message of Jesus (in much affliction with Joy in the Holy Spirit).

You [Thessalonians] became an example to believers.

These people were doing what was reasonable (Romans 12). These sorts of things are what Christians do when they understand the issues of life and death as a child of God.

God had been extraordinarily good to them; they had received good news; they could not keep it to themselves.

Their doing wasn’t by coercion. No one was twisting their arms to force them to action. They couldn’t help themselves. Joy had taken hold.

News of their infectious enthusiasm for the Lord Jesus Christ spread to surrounding regions and beyond. So much so that people whom Paul, Silvanus and Timothy had never previously met already knew the message that the missionaries brought! They knew it because the Thessalonians had passed it on.

This is an imagined summary of the Message that the Thessalonians passed on:

  • We had wickedly ignored the true and living God and worshipped idols instead
  • This God whom we have offended shows his mercy in this, that Jesus his divine son rescues idol worshippers from God’s righteous anger.
  • Jesus saved idol worshippers like us by his dying and rising again — in this way our sins are forgiven before God.
  • We now have abandoned our idols and happily serve this true God as we wait for the return of Jesus, who will judge the world in righteousness.
  • Don’t wait until then the day of judgment to meet your God — repent and trust Jesus now. He rescues any who will trust him.

This is the sort of things I imagine that these persecuted, enthusiastic, joyful Thessalonians would have said. Trust yourselves to this Jesus. Then, become imitators of Paul, Silas, Timothy and the Lord in your daily lives.

How? By being thankful, doing good, telling people about Jesus,  trusting God, labouring to love, and being patience because we have hope.