************ Sermon on Psalm 121:1-2 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on December 31, 2000

Psalm 121
verses 1-2
"Where Does Our Help Come From?"

The heading to Psalm 121 says, "A song of ascents." This means it is a Pilgrim Psalm; this means it is was sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to the holy city, Jerusalem.

A pilgrimage to Jerusalem was an ambition and even an obligation of those faithful Jews who did not return to Canaan after the Babylonian exile. In fact, God commanded this:
(Ex 23:17) "Three times a year all the men are to appear before the Sovereign LORD."
They were to gather in Jerusalem for the Passover Feast, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Tabernacles (cf Ex 23 & 34; Lev 23). That's why, in the New Testament, there are so many references to Jews going to Jerusalem for the Passover and other feasts (Lk 2:41; Jn 5:1; Jn 7:2). That's why when the day of Pentecost came "there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven" (Acts 2:1-11). The Jews were pilgrims.

That word "pilgrim" perfectly describes the Christian; and that word "pilgrimage" perfectly describes the Christian life. A pilgrim is someone who is traveling somewhere; a pilgrim is someone who stays in a place as a stranger or visitor. Consider, for a moment, the words of Hebrews about the heroes of faith:
(Heb 11:13-16) All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. (14) People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. (15) If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. (16) Instead, they were longing for a better country--a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.
And, speaking to God's New Testament people, the Apostle Peter says,
(1Pt 2:11) Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world ...

Christians are pilgrims. The Christian life is a pilgrimage. Our final citizenship is in heaven and we are but temporary dwellers on earth. Our life is a pilgrim journey to the place where we really belong. Let me tell you a story I know I have used before:
Topic: Pilgrims
Date: 12/1992.101
Title: Traveling Light

Late last century, an American tourist paid a visit to a renowned Polish rabbi, Hofetz Chaim. He was astonished to see that the rabbi's home was only a simple room filled with books, plus a table and a cot.
The tourist asked, "Rabbi, where is your furniture?" Hofetz Chaim replied, "Where is yours?"
The puzzled American asked, "Mine? But I'm only a visitor here. I'm only passing through." The rabbi replied, "So am I."
That's true for all of us all Christians know that on this earth and in this body they are but pilgrims passing through on the way to eternal glory.

Now, I want to ask you, what was your pilgrim journey like during the year 2000?

Was the year 2000 a year in which you made progress on your pilgrim journey? Did you come closer to God? Or, did you move away from Him? Did you triumph over a particular sin in your life or did you fall again and again? Was the year 2000 a year of increased faith? Did you grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ? Did you make peace with your Maker and with your family and neighbors?

What was your pilgrim journey like during 2000?

I Help is Needed on the Pilgrim Journey
A The psalmist knew that the pilgrim journey was not easy. To get to Jerusalem he had to cross mountains and hills, valleys and deserts. Along the way he would run into steep paths, deep ravines, overhanging cliffs, falling rocks, wild and hungry beasts, cold nights, hot days, and robbers. So on his pilgrim journey he lifts his eyes to the hills or mountains that stand in his path and asks, "where does my help come from?"

Usually this first verse of Psalm 121 has been misunderstood. Too often the hills or mountains are understood as Mount Zion and seen as a symbol of security, comfort, and strength. This interpretation, however, does not fit the psalm. For one thing, there is nothing in the psalm to indicate that the pilgrim is even looking at Mount Zion. For another, the rest of the psalm indicates that the mountains represent the danger and hardship of the journey.

The realistic pilgrim looks at those mountains that stand between him and Jerusalem. As he considers the dangerous journey that awaits him as he crosses those mountains, it is only natural that he asks, "Will I get across? Will I be able to make it safely to Jerusalem? Where will I get the help and strength I need to cross those mountains?" Says the Psalmist,
(Ps 121:1) I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from?

B This pilgrimage is a perfect picture of life. Life, as I said, is a pilgrimage, a journey. We all are on a journey through life. And, like the Psalmist, we face many dangers and difficulties along the way. Let me name some of them:
-sickness and disease, either in your own life or in the life of a loved one
-major surgery
-the death of a loved one
-the agony and pain of separation and divorce
-an unfaithful marriage partner
-an abusive marriage partner
-a loved one with an alcohol or drug problem
-dear ones with physical or mental disabilities
-children who cause much heartache and pain
-financial stress
-loss of a job or position
-sin, temptation, and evil
These, and more, are the dangers and difficulties we face as we may make our way through life. So with the Psalmist we ask,
Ps 121:1 I lift up my eyes to the hills (to the dangers and difficulties along life's journey) -- where does my help come from?

This much, though, we do know: to participate in the pilgrimage this past year we needed help; we know we could not make it on our own. So, as we look back it is important to know "where does my help come from."

II Our Help Comes from the Lord
A Where does, where did, our help come from on the pilgrim journey during 2000? Who do we look to for the help and strength we need?

Where does our help come from as we journey through life? Some people are self-reliant, they depend upon themselves, they look within themselves for all that they need. Others look to doctors or insurance or science or the President. But another Psalmist says to us,
(Ps 146:3-4) Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save. (4) When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.
It is foolish to depend upon yourself or on any man or man-made thing. For man is mortal and imperfect. All that we do, all that we have, all that we are is stained with sin and imperfection.

B Where does our help come from as we journey through life? We all should know where our help comes from:
(Ps 121:1-2) I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? (2) My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
Our help comes from the LORD. It is He Who helps us on our life's journey. He is He Who gives us the strength and the courage to keep on going. It is He Who allows us to face death and trouble and hardship with confidence and joy.

Our help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. Imagine the might and the power to make everything in heaven and earth; imagine the might and the power to make you and me. The LORD, He is Almighty. All things are in His hands. Nothing and no one is stronger than Him. To such a God a mighty God we can look for help. We know He is more than able to do anything at anytime and anywhere.

You might want to ask yourself whether you have a big God or a little God.
Topic: God
Subtopic: Power of
Index: 3808-3811

A little girl listened attentively as her father read the family devotions. She seemed awed by her parents' talk of God's limitless power and mercy. "Daddy," she asked, placing her little hands on his knees, "how big is God." Her father thought for a moment and answered, "Honey, he is always just a little bigger than you need."
Our God, He is the Maker of heaven and earth. He is always able to give us exactly the help that we need.

Our help comes from the LORD. He is not only almighty but He is also faithful. He is not only able to do all things but He is also willing to do all things for His children. You see, in the Hebrew language that name LORD is YaHWeH. This is the name of the God Who loves us in Jesus Christ, the God Who covenants with us, the God Who promises to never leave us or forsake us.

Is the LORD, the almighty Maker of heaven and earth your help? Is the LORD, the God Who loves us in Christ, your help? Let me tell you, it is only because of the LORD that you can come through sickness, broken relationships, disabilities, surgery, death, temptation, and all the other problems and trials of 2000.

At the same time, I need to tell you that God's help is not given to all. It is only given to those who by grace have given their heart to Jesus. So, if you have not given your heart to Jesus, I'm afraid that the Lord Jesus will NOT help you face the problems and trials of life. If you still depend upon yourself or another man or manmade thing, I'm afraid that you in the final analysis have no one and no thing to look toward for help. I came across this in a magazine:
Topic: Death
Subtopic: Preparation for
Index: 2162

He wore his boots when it rained.
He brushed his teeth TWICE a day -- with a nationally advertised toothpaste. The doctors examined him twice a year.
He slept with the windows open.
He stuck to a diet with plenty of fresh vegetables.
He relinquished his tonsils and traded in several wornout glands.
He golfed -- but never more than 18 holes at a time.
He got at least eight hours' sleep every night.
He never smoked, drank or lost his temper.
He did his "daily dozen" daily. He was all set to live to be a hundred.

The funeral will be held Wednesday. He's survived by eight specialists, three health institutions, two gymnasiums and numerous manufacturers of health foods and antiseptics.
You know what this man forgot? He forgot God. I implore you, congregation, not to forget God. I implore you to look to the LORD for help as you journey through life.

C In verses 3-8 the Psalmist lists the different ways in which the Lord is the pilgrim's help as he makes his pilgrimage over the mountains to Jerusalem. The psalmist sees God as helping the pilgrim every single step of the way.

In verse 3 the Psalmist says, "He will not let your foot slip ..." Sometimes the mountain trail took the pilgrim to narrow ledges on the side of a cliff. A single slip could mean a fall of hundreds of feet. But God keeps the pilgrim's feet upon the safety of the path.

What about night time? When it is dark outside, especially in the mountains, the pilgrim faces danger from wild animals and thieves. Even then the Lord protects:
(Ps 121:3-4) ... he who watches over you will not slumber; (4) indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Even the sun could create hardships for the pilgrim on his journey. Heat, thirst, sunstroke, and sunburn could all prevent the pilgrim from completing his journey. The pilgrim, however, does not have to fear:
(Ps 121:5-6) The LORD watches over you-- the LORD is your shade at your right hand; (6) the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.

God keeps His people safe on their pilgrim journey. He sees them through the problems and trials of life:
(Ps 121:7) The LORD will keep you from all harm-- he will watch over your life ...
This does not mean God keeps all dangers from us. Nor does it mean that no true Christian ever suffers in this life. The desert and mountains do not disappear. They are still there and still need to be crossed. The thought of verse 7 is that evil cannot come near us to harm us permanently. This thought is better expressed by the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:
(Rom 8:39) neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Psalmist concludes the psalm with the encouraging words of verse 8:
(Ps 121:8) the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
The Lord protects the pilgrim throughout the journey. Always and forever the pilgrim has the Lord with him. Always and forever the pilgrim can say, "My help comes from the Lord."

D Our help comes from the Lord. But are we willing to let the Lord be our help? Did we rely on Him during 2000? Will we rely on Him during 2001?
Topic: God
Subtopic: Power of
Index: 3808-3811

The story is told of a Welsh woman who lived in a remote valley in Wales. She went to a great deal of trouble to have electrical power installed in her home. They noticed she didn't use very much electricity at all. In fact, her usage was minuscule. They sent a meter reader out to check on the matter. The man came to the door and said, "We've looked at the amount. Don't you use electricity?" "Oh yes" she said. "We turn it on every night to see how to light our lamps and then we switch it off again."
This sounds like the way many Christians apply the power of God in their lives. We turn to Him only occasionally, or when we have a major crisis in our life, or when we are at wit's end. Instead, we should always again and again be turning to Him!

As you think back on the pilgrim journey of the year 2000 I hope you can say with the Psalmist:
(Ps 121:1-2) I lift up my eyes to the hills-- where does my help come from? (2) My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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