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When God's Promises Seem to Fail...

Dear Crosswalkers,
 
We are entering our third week of shutdown, which will now be extended for the entire month of April. At the earliest, we can resume our corporate worship on May 3, and reopen our school on May 4 (Yes, and “may the fourth be with you!”). However, there is much talk about the need for even further extensions. We must remain flexible. At Crosswalk, we plan to send you videos of our worship services, including a special Holy Thursday Communion Service! More information will be forthcoming.

This week’s mailing is a long read! But it is important as it deals with the important reality that sometimes God's promises seem to fail.

On Monday’s news there was a feature on a church choir in Washington that met for rehearsal. 45 members of the choir tested positive for COVID-19, and two have died. Followers of Jesus are not exempt from danger and diseases. But what about the fantastic promises in the Bible? That’s what this communication is all about.

Psalm 91 answers the questions, How do we face danger, trouble, and negative circumstances in our lives with confidence? And, How can we have our heart at peace during times of difficulty? And, What can we do when God's promises seem to fail? We live in a world that is full of serious illnesses, relational betrayals, financial reversals, and of course the sadness and heartbreak when a loved one dies. There is no way to stop those things from happening. In our present COVID-19 crisis, such troubles are being multiplied and magnified.

But there is a way to handle them with an inner strength and even a joyful confidence in God. We won’t cover everything in this great Psalm, but I want to share the fantastic promises God makes, and how to deal with the fact that these promises don’t seem to match with reality as we experience it.
 
THE GREAT PROMISES OF GOD: PROTECTION FROM EVIL AND VICTORY TO HIS PEOPLE!

1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.        
4  He will cover you with his feathers.
     He will shelter you with his wings.
 His faithful promises are your armor and protection.Living in the shelter of the Most High God is a poetical way of describing the person of faith. Through our trust in the Lord we find a safe haven from the storms of life. The second line makes a promise to people of faith: They will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. Finding rest is “picture language” for peace with God.
Then we have the promise of v3. Literally it reads, “He will rescue you from ‘the trap of the bird-catcher.’” We are likened to birds who can be trapped and killed. God is likened to a mother bird who protects her young. That is very important symbolism, and we will come back to it later.

As we move down through the psalm, the promise of divine protection is rehearsed with spellbinding detail.

     5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
   6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.

We are promised immunity from the terrors of the night, real or imagined. It’s like God is our comprehensive insurance provider against any and all danger. The arrow that flies by day is a reference to troubles we can see coming. The disease in the darkness refers to trouble we can’t see. There are some dangers that blindside us. We don’t need to worry about those. We’re protected. We’re in good hands!

7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
     though ten thousand are dying around you,
 these evils will not touch you.

This is language of major indemnification. It’s like we go through the world in a protective bubble. People are dropping like flies all around us. But by God’s grace we stay standing!

9 If you make the Lord your refuge,
    if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
    no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
    to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
    so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.

Those are major promises of absolute protection from the evil, trouble, and dangers of this world. You won’t even hurt your foot or stub your toe! Then that middle section of the psalm closes with words of triumph and victory:

13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
    you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.”

This is poetry, and the phrase “crush under your feet” is picture language for overwhelming victory. Now in OT times there were literal lions that lived in the Holy Land, as well as dangerous snakes. But here they are representative of all dangerous situations. This is a promise of protection from, and victory against, the dangerous elements of our environment.
 
Now if some of you are blown away by these promises of protection, good! That’s the intent of this Psalm! So you may be tempted to think, “Yeah, but that’s the OT, things were different then.” Well, in the NT the Lord Jesus seems to double down on this promise! He had sent 72 disciples out on a mission. And here’s what happened:

The seventy-two returned with joy and said, “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” He replied, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you."       - Luke 10:17-19 (NLT)

Now here, clearly, snakes and scorpions represent demonic powers of evil. But Jesus promises this: nothing will harm you!

In the OT and the NT, we have the awesome promise of absolute protection from evil. These are promises that should give us great confidence and courage when we face trouble!

Now if you are bothered by those promises because you don’t believe they square with reality, you’re not alone. These promises just don’t seem to fit in with the real world. We are bothered by these promises because good people, godly people, people who love Jesus, suffer all the time. Why doesn’t God protect them? And if he doesn’t protect them why should we ever think he will protect the likes of us?
 
WHAT TO DO WHEN THE TEACHINGS OF THE BIBLE DON’T SEEM TO AGREE WITH REALITY AS WE KNOW IT
  • LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE
In other words, what does the rest of the Bible have to say about that subject? In fact, the Bible and Christian tradition is not shy about sharing the sufferings of God’s people. The patriarch Joseph was sold into slavery, Elijah was so depressed he was suicidal, and he asked God to kill him. Jeremiah was rejected and thrown in a well with mud on the bottom and left there to die. Isaiah was sawn in half, Jonah was swallowed by a whale, Paul was beaten and persecuted and shipwrecked and had a thorn in his flesh, Peter was crucified upside down, John was exiled on the island of Patmos. There are scores of examples of God’s people suffering greatly.

Most famously we have the story of Job. Job suffered every evil and trouble and hardship known to humanity. He had three friends who took Psalm 91 very literally. They concluded that Job must not be a righteous person because God didn’t protect him from trouble. So they blamed the victim. They said all his troubles were his own fault. In the last chapter God shows up and this is what we read:

7 After the LORD had said these things to Job, he said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has… My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken the truth about me, as my servant Job has.”                                   - Job 42:7-8b (NIV)

When we look at the big picture, we see that it is folly to think that God will protect us from all harm.
 
There must be a deeper meaning to Psalm 91.
  • UNDERSTAND SPIRITUAL REALITIES
Shakespeare wrote this:
“The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose.
An evil soul producing holy witness
Is like a villain with a smiling cheek,
A goodly apple rotten at the heart.
O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!” – The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare was right! There is one place in the Bible where the devil quotes Scripture, and its Psalm 91 that he quotes! Be very careful with this psalm, it’s the only passage quoted by the devil. This is in Luke 4 -

Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off!  For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect and guard you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the LORD your God.’”  - Luke 4:9-12 (NLT)

So the devil takes the literal view of this psalm, and says to Jesus, “Jump off the temple, and if God doesn’t miraculously protect you, then God doesn’t exist or at least God can’t be trusted.” The devil is strategic. He wants us to believe the lie that if something bad happens to us, then God can’t be trusted. When trouble comes our way, the devil wants us to come unglued, to be disappointed in God, and to get angry and bitter. Anything that leads to your spiritual derailment is of the devil.
  • LOOK CAREFULLY AT WHAT THE TEXT SAYS 
14 The Lord says, “I will rescue those who love me.
    I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
    I will be with them in trouble.
    I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
    and give them my salvation.”                  

V15 – does not say, I will save them from trouble but rather, I will be with them in trouble. This promise points to the NT, where Jesus suffered all things so that he might be with us in all things.

Only Christianity makes the claim that the transcendent God became a human being and suffered human weakness.

Only Christianity teaches that the invulnerable God became vulnerable, the immortal God became mortal. I will be with them in trouble. God knows what we’re going through.

So what does Psalm 91 really promise?

THE PROMISES FOR PROTECTION AND VICTORY ARE ONLY FOR THE PART OF US THAT REALLY MATTERS

Jesus was the most righteous person who ever lived, yet he suffered greatly. Jesus never promised a trouble-free life. To the contrary, he promised that if we will follow him closely, we will suffer. Here’s an instructive passage:

Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.  - Luke 21:16-19 (NLT)

This is quite a passage. Jesus said some of you will experience relational betrayal, and even death. You will be hated by everyone because you are a Christian. In some parts of the world these verses are being fulfilled today. But then he says, But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls. God protects only the part of us that really matters.

It’s all about our souls! That’s what really matters!

This body will soon be dust. My soul will live forever. By standing firm, the word there literally means, by patient endurance, you will win your souls.

In other words, when you trust God in times of trouble for the protection of your soul, then you will be spiritually enabled to handle the trouble! God’s people are not exempt from trouble. We are like all other mere mortals. But God will protect the real you that will last forever.

Speaking as the Good Shepherd, Jesus says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me… (John 10:27-28 NLT).

We have confidence in times of trouble because no trouble can take away the part of us that matters most, our eternal souls. That’s what Psalm 91 is all about.

So, let’s conclude by coming back to the important image in Psalm 91 of God like a mother bird protecting its young. All those verses about God protecting his people under his wing point to Jesus. In Luke 13, in the context of God’s coming judgment, Jesus said this as he stood over Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.    - Luke 13:34 (NLT)

The mother bird protecting her helpless chicks under her wings conveys a strength that is able to protect. But most importantly, it also conveys sacrificial love. This is key! The mother bird protects her babies by putting herself between the danger and her young chicks. She takes the heat of the sun in her own body as her chicks rest in the shadow of her wings. She takes the wind and the rain in her body. She puts her body between the flood of water and her chicks. She puts her own body between the predator and her chicks. How does mother bird protect baby birds? By putting herself between the evil and the ones she loves.  

In the Luke 13 passage, the context is judgment. Jerusalem will be judged. In that context Jesus said, if you believed in me I would become a mother bird for you. I would put myself between you and the judgment. But you wouldn’t let me. Other translations say, and you were not willing.

Now, what protects us from God’s judgment is the shadow of the cross. The Lord Jesus put himself between us and the judgment we so richly deserve. I implore you to let Jesus stand between you and the evils of this world and the coming judgment. Trust him. Put your faith in him.
 
Grace to you, and peace,

Pastor John

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