PSALM 5 TALK
UNDER THE SHELTER OF HEAVEN
(A PRAYER FOR GOD’S PROTECTION)
When Martin Luther was on his way to face a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church to answer for what they said were his heretical teachings, one of the Cardinal’s servants taunted him saying, “Where will you find shelter if your patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert you? Luther answered, “Under the shelter of heaven”.
In verse 11 of Psalm 5 , David writes, “But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them sing for joy. Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you”. This is the same concept that Martin Luther drew his courage and assurance from, he trusted that the great true King of Heaven has promised his protection and help for his true followers. This is an echo of what we saw in Psalm 2 and it is seems that the context of this Psalm is the same as Psalm 3 and 4. That is the rebellion of David’s oldest son Absalom and David’s desperate flee from Jerusalem with his family and close friends. Psalm 4 seems to be a prayer on the first night and Psalm 3 is a prayer to God the next morning. Psalm 5 is a prayer on a morning a few days later after David has already seen God helping and protecting him and therefore this prayer is a bit more developed in thought and structure.
We to face constant attack from our great enemy the devil but just like Martin Luther and David we to can find assurance and peace in the knowledge that God promises us his protection and help as we to are “Under the shelter of heaven” also. In this study we will look at the key issues of Christian assurance and protection and will discover I hope that in Jesus no one can take us out of his loving strong hands.
Psalm 5 can be divided in four sections :
1. DAVIDS PLEA TO GOD FOR HELP (1,2)
The Psalm starts like many of David’s prayers for help in the face of difficulty with a plea to God to hear him. He uses here three descriptions of his plea:
- My Words
- My Sighing
- My Cry.
Lets look quickly at each of these a bit closer.
- My Words – David knew that God wants us to speak to him using words from our lips coming from our minds that have been transformed by the knowledge of our God and what he has done for us in Christ. Paul never advocated, what I call mindless Christianity. Our prayers should be an expression of what Paul talks about in Romans 12 verse 2,
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will”.
We pray because God wants us to pray, because he listens as David declares as he prays in verse 3, “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice”.
2. My Sighing – H.C. Leupold calls “sighing” ,“a deep feeling of the heart”. Our words to God in prayer should not be dry and unemotional as much as they should not be mindless. True faith expresses itself in a perfect balance of intelligence and emotion. We are neither robots or emotional blubber but living breathing human beings who have minds and hearts turned over to a living God who loves us.
3. My Cry – David does not stop at sighing, so great is the danger he sees himself in that he cries. David was certainly someone who was not afraid of showing his emotions. He dances, when happy and praises the Lord and cries out to God when he faces great trial and difficulty. I must confess I have a bit of problem sometimes showing my emotions and particularly I have a problem when I am in close quarters with someone else who is showing their emotions. However the bible teaches we should not be like this. When Jesus came face to face with the death of his friend Lazarus and those who mourned him we read in John 11 verse 35 ,
The shortest and probably one of the most emotionally charged verses in the bible. Jesus also is recorded to have wept as he approached Jerusalem for the last time as he knew what would happen to it in the future after his death. Paul might sometimes seem a very emotionally hard person but in his second letter to the Corinthians chapter 2 verse 4 he writes,
“I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you”.
As much as the bible teaches that showing emotions is not wrong and is in fact healthy we should not let emotions rule us as the bible teaches that Christ alone should rule us.
Colossians 3 : 15 “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts”
The problem with emotions is that sometimes we all let them rule us at the expense of truth and even Christ.
I read that Martin Luther taught that,
“Feeling must follow, but faith, apart from all feeling, must be there first”.
If I only believe that Christ died for my sins or that God is listening to me when I pray because I feel it so, then I will often doubt that it is true. But if I believe in my heart and mind what I read in God’s word about this then no matter how I feel on any given day wont change that truth and it now can influence and direct my emotions in a true and healthy way.
2. DAVID’S ASSURANCE OF BEING IN GOD’S PRESENCE
(3 – 8)
David now moves from a emotionally charged plea to God for help to some amazing words of faith and assurance in the God he is crying out to for help. In verse 3 we read again that David came to God in the morning in prayer. We have seen this already in Psalm 3 verse 5 and in many other Psalms David speaks of coming to God in the morning or at the start of a day. I think Peter alludes to this in 2 Peter 1 : 19,
“And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts”.
It is a very healthy practice to start the day with God, particularly when we consider that it is at the start of a day that our struggle with sin, the world and the devil begins anew.
David in verse 4 – 8 now sets out two things :
1. How God sees and treats his enemies or those who oppose him
2. How God sees and treats those who seek to love and serve him.
3. How God sees and treats his enemies or those who oppose him
David sets out seven descriptions of his enemies, in Gods sight and six reactions God has to these.
1. Verse 4 / Evil and does not tale pleasure in evil
David describes his and indeed God’s enemies as evil. I found on the internet from a publication called “Grace Notes” this excellent definition of evil,
“The word “Evil” refers specifically to the policy of Satan as the ruler of this world. Evil is the modus operandi of Satan from the time of his fall throughout the angelic revolution and down to the point when be became the ruler of the world. Satan is directly opposed to anything involving the Lord Jesus Christ. Satan’s is devoted to distorting or obscuring any truth related to Christ”.
People who are into evil are involved in things that oppose God and David points out that God does not “take pleasure in” or does not like evil and therefore those who do it. The “Grace Notes” article quotes, among many other verses, 1 Thessalonians 5 : 22,
“Avoid every kind of evil”
Interesting Paul goes on to spell out in the next two verses how we can do this.
“May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it”.
2. Verse 4 / Wicked and cannot dwell
If God cannot take pleasure in evil and those who do it then it follows that that kind person cannot dwell with him. That is the sort of thing Paul is talking about in Romans 2 : 5 – 9,
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. 6God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”7To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life. 8But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. 9There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile”.
There is no place in God’s heaven for evil and that is why Paul goes to point out the tremendous need for Jesus Christ our Saviour who paid for our sin or evil and cleanse us from it so that we can enter into God’s presence without the blight of evil on our souls.
This is clear in a passage like Romans 3 : 21 – 26,
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.
Finally here, note God does not like evil and will destroy it and all who follow it but as Ezekiel 18 : 22 says,
“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD”
NO God loves the sinner and provides the way for him to turn back to him in repentance and faith through the death and resurrection of his only Son and Lord, Jesus Christ. As Ezekiel eludes to in the final part of this verse,
“Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”
3. Verse 5 / Arrogant and cannot stand in your presence
I found a good definition of Arrogance on the net it reads, that arrogance is:
”the act or quality of having unwarranted pride and self-importance”.
The Today’s English version of the bible translates Proverbs 16 verse 18 this way,
“Pride leads to destruction, and arrogance to downfall”
Many people cannot and will not come to Christ and accept the salvation he offers because they are to proud and because they will not give up what they see as their independence to trust and believe in Christ. To be arrogant in the bible terms is to put yourself first and that is what it means to sin or be evil and as we have seen already and again here, this type of person “cannot stand in God’s presence”.
4. Verse 5 / All who do wrong and God hates
To say that God hates something seems to be a contradiction to God being a God of Love. However as we saw earlier in Romans 2 God, because he is holy and blameless is also a God of Wrath,
“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2 : 5)
The real picture of the magnitude of God’s Love is in the context of his wrath towards sin and anyone who commits it. His very own Son, Jesus Christ takes the full force of his wrath upon himself on the Cross so that we can pass from death to life. As Paul says in Romans 3 : 25 – 26,
“God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus”.
God’s love has a special name and it is of course, “Grace”, his undeserved love. I heard a very good word picture of Grace recently. It was a about how a Sydney Christian couple could not have children so they decided to adopt a orphaned child from Thailand. They spent a lot of money time and energy on arranging this and eventually flew to Thailand at their own expense and in a Thai orphanage met a young boy named Jimmy and decided to adopt him and take him back to Australia as their own child. The point of the word picture is that, Jimmy did nothing to be adopted. He was adopted through the loving actions of the Christian couple who did it all for him. So it is with God he hates sin and will judge it but he loves the sinner so he does it all for him by sending his Son to die for his sin.
The problem is we are sinners when we here this message and are therefore full of pride and arrogance and what most people do in rejecting God’s offer of salvation is like if Jimmy said to the Australian couple “go home, go back to Australia I don’t wont your love I would rather stay here in Thailand a orphan with no future.
5. Verse 6 / Tell lies and destroy
Evil men have no problem telling lies because they are not into truth but whatever advances them, which is another way of saying they are arrogant. In David’s case, if the context of this Psalm the rebellion of Absalom, then he had his own son standing at the gate of the city pouring out treacherous lies against him. David faced the same kind of treacherous lies when he had Saul seeking to kill him because he to was motivated by his pride and self interest and not the true state of David’s allegiance to what he saw as God’s appointed King. Jesus calls the devil in John 8 : 44 ,
“The Father of Lies”
All outside of Christ are controlled by the devil so we should not be surprised by how much telling lies is part of this world. However the save person should be characterized by lies but by telling the truth as John teaches us in 1 John 1 : 5 -7,
“This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. 6If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. 7But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.
6. Verse 6 / Bloodthirsty and the Lord Abhors
Both Absalom and Saul sought to violently kill David, their sin or evil led them to acts of violence. We see even today that people living for themselves and without God can and often do act in a violent and bloodthirsty way towards others. God’s 6th commandment tell us, “Thou Shall not murder”. The fact that God Abhors bloodthirsty murder means that he does not condone murder and destruction in this world and will one day judge it.
But just as people of this world are characterized by lying and the people of God by telling the truth so we should be people not characterized by violence but love and peace. As Jesus says in Mathew 5 : 9,
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”.
7. Verse 6 / Deceitful men and the Lord Abhors
Like David’s earlier point God hates and will destroy those who lie and therefore practice
Deceit. Again we have come the know the truth if we have turned to Christ who calls himself, “the way, the truth and the life” John 14 : 6
We must not only know the truth but live it in the context of this world full of lies.
In this section David also sets out :
2. How God sees and treats those who seek to love and serve him.
We find this in verse 7 and 8 and it is from here and in the final verses of this Psalm we learn of God’s unfailing love and protection for his people.
Note that verse 7 tells us, as we have seen already that his love for us is not something we deserve but comes from, as David puts it God’s Mercy or as we have stated it in Jimmy’s story, God’s Grace. God’s mercy brings to David three things :
- A Way into God’s Presence.
- Reverence to God
- God’s Guidance
1. A Way into God’s Presence.
As I quotes in the last section in John 14 : 6 ,
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life.
And Jesus goes on to say,
“No one comes to the Father except through me”.
David believed that one day he would die and go to be with God forever, we have that promise even more clearly than he had from verses like John 14 : 6. Jesus has made a way for us to heaven. Therefore we are heaven bound and this is a major part of our Christian assurance. We know it is possible to go to heaven when we die because someone has already done it, Jesus Christ, who also made the way for us to do it. As the writer to the Hebrews so wonderfully put it in Hebrews 12 : 1 – 2,
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God’.
Hebrews contains many references like this and like David also teases us the next thing God’s grace brings to us :
2. Reverence to God
David responds to God’s grace in the appropriate way, “in reverence I bow down”. As compared to his Godless enemies, who are arrogant and defiant towards God he is humble before God because God has done so much more him. As James encourages us to do in James 4 : 10
“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”
This the great paradox of the Gospel, we submit to God because of what Jesus has done for us and we get exalted in God’s presence. We become slaves of God to win our freedom, we humble ourselves before God to be lifted up.
3. God’s Guidance (vs.7)
In verse 7 David asks for God’s Guidance as result of God’s mercy towards him. As we saw in John 14 : 6 , with Jesus as the way , truth and life and the way to God, so we to can be assured that God will and is leading us to glory. This verse reminds me of another famous verse on guidance, that I have clung to in my dark hours of trial and waywardness in my life, Proverbs 3 : 5 – 6,
“ Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight”.
The big question throughout my life has often been, Lord what do you want me to do?
God’s answer is always the same,
1.Trust in me,
2. don’t rely on your understanding,
3. acknowledge me
4. and I will make your paths straight.
Sounds to simple to be true but let me tell you if you prayerfully do those four things in life you will find God’s guidance for your life.
3. DAVID’S PRAYER TO GOD TO OVERTHROW THE WICKED (9 – 10)
David now goes back into prayer and now asks God to deal with his enemies who are also the enemies of God as well.
In verse 9 David again describes these people this time in four ways :
1. They cannot be trusted
2. They have destructive hearts
3. Their throats are an open grave
4. Their tongues speak deceit
1. They cannot be trusted
We have seen that those who are evil live selfish, Godless lives which means they live lives for themselves and not others so it follows these kind of people cannot be trusted. We should not be surprised when a non Christian turns on us and treats us badly.
We should however be surprised when a Christian does this as this means they are not following the example of Christ and have fallen to sin and the devil.
2. They have destructive hearts
David now point to the source of this evil, their hearts. As Jesus points out in Matthew 15 : 18 – 19,
8But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
Evil come from our sinful heart that shows itself in what we say and do unless we have accepted Christ into our hearts and his spirit takes control to make us more like Christ.
3. Their throats are an open grave
As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 15 : 18 – 19, the major way we show our evil heart is through what we say. David uses a vivid image here to describe the evil mans words. They are dead and stinking like a grave that has been made open to reveal a rotting corpse.
4. Their tongues speak deceit
David now declares what this rotting speech is, it is nothing more than deceit. James speaks to Christians in James 3 about the danger of not controlling our tongues, let me read to you some of the things he says in verse 3 – 7,
“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and creatures of the sea are being tamed and have been tamed by man, 8but no man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison”
Verse 10 – Is David’s actual prayer for God’s judgment to come upon his enemies, this is called in theological cycles as imprecation which is a term which invoking evil or judgment on someone. There are many examples of imprecation in the Psalms and these Psalms are often called Imprecatory Psalms. This raises the issue in my mind of whether we should pray that God will deal with God’s his today this way or as well. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for them, Luke 6 : 27 – 29,
“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic”.
However we also know from the teaching of Christ and the rest of the New Testament that God has appointed a day that all men will be judged, Acts 17 : 31,
“For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”
This means that when we read David praying for God to deal with his enemies like he does here in verse 10, who are also God’s enemies we should think of this in the context of the final judgment to come. Martin Luther pointed out that when we pray in the Lords prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”, we are praying for God’s day of Judgment to come as well.
However interestingly I did read a article on the net by a man named Dr Peter Hammond, called “Praying for Justice” and he points out that in the many persecuted parts of the world prayers like David is praying here are prayed in places were Christians suffer major and terrible persecution. Here is a small extract from that article,
“Despite the fact that 90 of the 150 Psalms include imprecations (prayers invoking God’s righteous judgement upon the wicked) such prayers are rare in the average Western church. However, amongst the persecuted churches these prayers are much more common.
Praying Against the Persecutors
Amidst the burnt out churches and devastation of marxist Angola I found the survivors of communist persecution – including the crippled and maimed, and widows and orphans praying for God to strike down the wicked and remove the persecutors of the Church. I was shocked – yet it was Biblical (Even the martyrs in heaven pray
“How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Revelation 6:10).
The initiator of the communist persecution in Angola was Agestino Neto. Described as a “drunken, psychotic, marxist poet”, Neto had been installed by Cuban troops as the first dictator of Angola. He boasted that: “Within 20 years there won’t be a Bible or a church left in Angola. I will have eradicated Christianity.” Yet despite the vicious wave of church burning and massacres it is not Christianity that was eradicated in Angola but Agestino Neto. Neto died in mysterious circumstances on an operating table in Moscow”.
4. DAVID’S PRAYER FOR GOD’S PROTECTION (11 – 12)
Finally we come to these wonderful words of assurance and encouragement, I have called being, “Under the Shelter of Heaven” or rather Martin Luther coined when he answered the Pope’s Cardinal when he asked, “Where will you find shelter if your patron, the Elector of Saxony, should desert you? Martin Luther seemed hopelessly out gunned and in big trouble when he used this term. One little Augustine Monk standing up against the mighty and powerful Roman Catholic Church of his time. Yet God did protect Martin Luther and he testified at his trial and proved from scripture that the whole Church of his time not him had moved away from the truth of the bible that we are justified by faith alone in the person and work of God’s Son Jesus Christ. The church still did not agree and found Luther guilty of heresy but he was protected by God through newly converted German princes like the Elector of Saxony. He had to live for many years in virtual exile but during this time he wrote many books and preached powerful sermons that led to the Reformation and the protestant Church we so now enjoy.
David speaks of this protection of God in three ways in these two magnificent verses.
1. The God of Refuge
2. The God of Loving protection
3. The God of blessing
1. The God of Refuge
God offers to those who truly look to him a place of refuge or safety. In the Old Covenant Moses was commanded by God to set up 6 cities of refuge for Israelites who killed another Israelite by accident. If such a thing happened then the person accused of murder was safe unto it was worked out in time if it was murder or what we now call manslaughter. God offers us his hand of safety and security and we only need to go to him like a person went to a city of refuge to have this protection and help.
David’s response to this reassuring fact is to “ever sing for joy”.
Paul encourages us to worship God in song in the words of Ephesians 5 : 19
“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ”
I cannot understand Christian sects and Churches who banned music, what do they do with the many Psalms that speak of singing and especially what do they do with Ephesians 5 : 19 and 20 rip it out of their bibles?
2. The God of Loving Protection
This leads on to the words in verse 11, “Spread your protection over them” and in verse this gives me the picture of a large bird pulling its tiny baby chicks under its giant wings to protect them from the nasty world around them. Which is the exact image David uses in Psalm 17 : 8,
“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings”.
God protects us from heaven in a variety of ways. When I was about 25 or so I worked as a Youth Worker in a Church in South Western Sydney and one day I went shopping on my own in Liverpool. I was deep in thought and not been looking properly what was going on around me when I went to cross a busy road. As I made what could have been a fatal step onto a busy road, I heard a loud voice say, “Stop” and I felt someone pull me back. As I fell backwards a car raced passed where I would have stepped. I got up quickly to thank the person who stopped me and looked around and nobody seemed close to me. To this day I believe God stopped me somehow and protected me from certain disaster.
Sometimes Christians do have horrible accidents and even get killed but of course God’s protection is still there in that he takes such people into his arms in heaven.
That’s what Isaiah is speaking about in Isaiah 40 : 11,
“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart”
We will look in the last section of this study at the word’s of assurance Jesus offers us in the context of him being the Good Shepherd.
Martin Luther was under the shelter of heaven and lived a long fruitful life of leading the protestant reformation. However others of his time lost their lives in tragic and often painful martyrdom. In England around the time of Martin Luther many faithful bible believing ministers were burnt at the stake by the Queen of England known as Bloody Mary who sought to re-establish Roman Catholic Church in England. Mary failed and after her death and only reigning 3 years or so the Protestant church really flourished in England and continues to this day. Those brave faithful ministers were spoken about in the famous saying that goes, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church”. Those men’s deaths led to the true faith of God being established in England and they of course went to be in the loving arms of God in heaven.
3. The God of blessing
I finish my look at the Psalm itself with the final words of the Psalm in verse 12,
“For surely, O LORD, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favor as with a shield”
God promises his blessing and favor for all David calls “the righteous”. Of course no person except for Jesus Christ himself can claim to be righteous.
However faith in him and what he has done for us, gives us righteousness as a gift. We read of this earlier in this study in Romans 3 : 22 – 24,
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus”
God’s blessing here in Psalm 5 : 12 is as his promise to be a shield for us. A shield protected a ancient soldier in battle. It was a covering of his body so that the enemies blows could be deflected. God is promising us his protection against the darts and arrows of his enemy Satan. Paul teaches us in Ephesians 6 : 12 that,
“our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.
Paul says in the previous 2 verses to,
“be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.”
We can be confident that if we are in Christ that like Martin Luther and David that we are certainly “Under the shelter of Heaven”.
PART 2. 3 NEW TESTAMENT INSIGHT PASSAGES
1. THE GOOD SHEPHERD (John 10 : 10 – 18)
Many Christians get to a point in there lives when they begin to doubt that God has saved them and that he is their close beside guiding and protecting us through life. I have such times in my life. Sometimes it comes because we have fallen to some kind of serious sin, sometimes it comes when we face a very real and painful trial in our life. I face times of doubt three times in my working life when I became unemployed. The first time was when I finished a full time ministry and went to a new ministry in overseas aid administration and I was a disaster in the job and had to quit only after two months of work. I had a young family, a large home mortgage and many debts to pay. My faith in God took a real pounding.
I had to re-read and study passages like John 10 and many others to relies afresh my relationship with God was not dependant on my efforts or works for God which God took away from me. As we have been looking at in this study our relationship with God is based on what he has done for us in Christ. Lets read this first passage in John 10 : 10 – 18 and then have a closer look at it.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.14“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
I would like us to note three things from this passage :
1. There is a false Shepherd who cannot be trusted
2. There is a Good Shepherd who can be trusted
3. There is no way sheep can save themselves they need shepherds
1. There is a false Shepherd who cannot be trusted
Jesus uses the concept of keeping sheep of his time to teach his hearers that they are saved and protected spiritually by him. In Jesus day, as in many parts of the middle east today sheep are kept in small groups and looked after by one person who is called a shepherd.
The people of Jesus day would have known there were always two types of shepherds. Good shepherds who looked after sheep and bad shepherds who didn’t or who could not be trusted to look after the sheep. Jesus calls these shepherds, hired hands.
Jesus is telling us here that, just as there was in his day, there are false religious teachers who are not truly of God and will lead us away from him. One day when I was in Liverpool shops a Hare Krishna lady stopped me in the street and asked me for a donation towards providing help for young people to get of drugs and find God. I said no and then she said “why not”. I replied, “because you said help young people get off drugs and find God” and Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no one come to the Father but by me”, therefore unless you lead young people to Christ they will not truly find God”. Her reaction was both verbally violent and loud and I had to shrink away quickly as people thought I had attached this lady.
You see there are many teachers claiming that they know the way back to God but Jesus is telling us here that apart from him they a false ways and therefore false shepherds and cannot be trusted.
2. There is a Good Shepherd who can be trusted
Jesus of course is the Good Shepherd and note 6 things that qualify him for that.
- He gives his followers (or sheep) life and life to the full.
- He has laid down his life for his sheep.
- He will never abandon his sheep no matter what happens.
- He knows his sheep and his sheep know him.
- He has only one flock and he alone is the shepherd of that flock.
- He gave himself to death therefore he is in control of our salvation.
Each one of these 6 great claims of Christ could be expanded upon easily but I simply make this point from them, our salvation, our relationship with God through Christ does not depend on us but it utterly dependant on Christ.
3. There is no way sheep can save themselves they need shepherds
This is an obvious point but it is a very real and important one. Jesus used the analogy of Sheep to refer to our state before God for a very good reason. Sheep are silly, weak and defenseless, listen to how Isaiah puts this in Isaiah 53 : 6,
“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all”.
Therefore we cannot save ourselves in any way and our Salvation and therefore relationship to God does not depend on what we have done but rather on what God has done for us.
Back in those dark months of unemployment I had to again relearn this truth again.
2 THE GOOD SHEPHERD WHO PROMISES TO PROTECT AND GUIDE US ALWAYS (John 10 : 25 -30)
Even though I could believe that Jesus did die for me and my seeming failure as a Christian worker did not change the fact I was saved by him and was headed to heaven, still I was unemployed and facing financial difficulty. I applied for many jobs and didn’t even get a job interview. I still felt that somehow God had dropped me into a deep hole and had forgotten about me.
I needed to relearn another great truth from John 10. In comes in the verses 25 – 30,
“Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, 26but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. 27My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
These words of Christ are a answer to a question many were asking him at the time namely, “are you the Christ or Messiah or not”? Jesus seems a frustrated here and says I have answered that question many times before and points to the many miracles he has performed as proof he was who he had claimed to be.
He then makes an amazing claim, that his sheep, true followers, people who turn to him alone for salvation, hear his voice or call and turn and follow him. He then says that he takes hold of them and no one can snatch them out of his hand. He uses the power and might of God the Father as the guarantee that this is so.
Some Christians strangely argue against what is theologically called, “The Perseverance of the saints” 0r the eternal assurance and security of all believers. One of the reasons fro this is that they say they know many believers who have fallen away and seemingly not come back. I have three possible answers to that :
- Did they really come to Christ in the first place.
Jesus says in Mark 13 : 13,
“All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved”,
Like the people who are the ground the seeds fall on that is full of thorns and after starting to grow get chocked by the thorns and die, so to are many who appear to be followers of Christ but in the end they reveal they are not.
2. There are false followers of Christ
Jesus warned us to be on the look out for particularly false teachers, Matthew 24 : 23 – 25,
“At that time if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or, ‘There he is!’ do not believe it. 24For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect—if that were possible. 25See, I have told you ahead of time”.
I mention false prophets because I have had so called fallen away minters as proof that the perseverance of the saints is not biblical.
3. No one knows where the heart of a person is at the end of our life.
The truth is, it is possible, as a true follower of Christ to go off the rails from time to time. If we know anyone in this situation we should seek to help them to come back to their first love as John sought to do to the Church of Ephesus in Revelation chapter 2. Like John did to this Church warn them of the consequences of falling away from Christ.
“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love. 5Remember the height from which you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. Revelation 2 : 5 – 6.
Of course even if a person seems to be away from Christ for a long time we do not know where their heart is when they die, only God and they know that. So to put anyone up as an example of a true believer being snatched out of Jesus hand is impossible to prove and I say by faith not possible.
When I went through those dark months of unemployment I had to learn afresh how to trust Christ even though my circumstances did not encourage me to do so. I had to learn that I was in Jesus strong and loving hands and he would guide and protect me.
The wonderful thing I discovered of course is he was and after three months of unemployment I got a new job and guess what it was?
I started to work with people who were unemployed, helping them through the agony of unemployment to getting a job. I had to go through this experience to equip me to this new a vital ministry. Proving yet again Pauls words in Romans 8 : 28,
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”.
4. THE CHRISTIAN IS ALWAYS UNDER ATTACK (James 4 : 7 – 12)
Unlike David most of us do not have people hunting us down seeking to kill us like he was when his Son rebelled against him and God or when Saul chased Saul all over the place seeking to kill him. However as Christians we are always under attack according to James 4. James give us some very good advice for fighting against the devil and his many forms of attack against us.
I have broken this advise up into 3 main points :
1. Submit and Resist
2. Humble yourself and be lifted up
3. Speak the truth in love
1. Submit and Resist
David shows us in Psalm 5 how he faced God’s enemies, he turned to God in genuine heartfelt prayer. He cried out to God for help and by the end of the Psalm he realized that God was with him and was protecting him from heaven. James tells us to do the same thing in our constant battle with the devil. He encourages us to “submit yourselves, then to God” in verse 7. In verse 8 he makes sure we know what he is talking about by putting it another way, “Come near to God”.
How do we submit to God and how do we come near to God? We must pray and David says in Psalm 5 he does this each morning. He starts his day with God in prayer. He looks to God and of course God answers by saying to him, “I will bless you, I will surround you with my favour and my love”. James tells us something similar. James says that if we come to God and resist the attacks of the devil the devil will flee from us, he will have no power over us. James goes on to say that if we come near to God he will come near to us. Some people might say sometimes, “God is so far away from me at the moment” but the bibles answer to that is ,”guess who moved”. Jesus promises to be with us unto the ends of the age, Matthew 28 : 20.
2. Humble yourself and be lifted up
James goes on to say to us in verse 10 to “Humble yourselves before the Lord”. David revealed I Psalm 5 that when he faced great and fearsome enemies he did not take God’s protection and help for granted he turned to God in what looks like desperate prayer. We to must not take God and our faith in him for granted and as James tells us go constantly to God in prayer with humility and faith. The writer to the Hebrews in chapter 4 verse 16 says ,
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.
The connecting thought to this amazing statement is the fact that Jesus through the cross has gone before us to make a way for us and he is now our high priest who is able to sympathize with what we are going through in this life.
When James says, “Humble yourselves before the Lord”, he to is saying go to God not on the grounds of what you have done but on the grounds of what God has done for us. This is on the grounds of God’s Grace.
If we come to God in this way the amazing thing, according to James is , “God will lift you up”. As we submit to the rule of God in our lives, giving up our lives to God in service only then do we find real life and purpose. In Christ we are, according to Paul,
“raised up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms” Ephesians 2 : 6
3. SPEAK THE TRUTH IN LOVE
In Psalm 5 David speaks this way about those who opposed him and God,
“Not a word from their mouth can be trusted. Their heart is filled with destruction. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongue they speak deceit”. Verse 9.
James warns us James 4 : 11 – 12 to watch very carefully what we say to and about each other,
“Brothers, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against his brother or judges him speaks against the law and judges it. When you judge the law, you are not keeping it, but sitting in judgment on it. 12There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy. But you—who are you to judge your neighbor?”
In Ephesians 4 : 15, Paul encourages us to,
“Speak the truth in love”
The devil often gets his in with Christians when they speak badly of one another and we must avoid as James says, slandering one another. James has much to say about controlling our tongues and the best thing we can do to make sure we do not fall into any kind of slander against a fellow Christian brother or sister is to follow the principle if we cannot say anything good about a person than say nothing. Or better still lest speak to and about one another not in a judgmental manner but in truth and love. Remembering that we are all sinners and need the grace of God to both save us and make us more like Christ.
TWO FINAL APPLICATIONS,
- Martin Luther answered The Roman Catholic Cardinal he is “Under the shelter of heaven”. This meant that he was not relying on earthly powers for both his salvation and protection. His assurance lay in the God of heaven who promises to, as David declares, “Spread his protection over us” verse 11 and “surround us with his favor as with a shield” verse 12. As we face the trials and tribulations of this life we to must always remember that we are “Under the shelter of heaven”
2. How can we have a greater sense of God’s presence and protection in our lives?
The bibles answer to this is to daily come to God in prayer and to realize like David that,
“In the morning, O LORD, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation”.
Lord I know that we fight against great and powerful enemies every day of our lives but I know you have promised to guide and protect us every step of the way. Father I thank you for your promise of protection and help through you Son The Lord Jesus Christ that he has promised us in that know one can snatch us out of his hands. Help me father to continually resist the devil and come to you each day in pray and faith, In and through the powerful name of Jesus I pray this Amen.