************ Sermon on Psalm 91:4 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on February 17, 2002
"Under His Wings"
Topic: ProtectionThis is the picture that the psalmist has in mind when he talks of God's wings: "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4).
Subtopic: Divine, Examples of
Title: Mother Bird Dies to Protect Her Chicks
An article in National Geographic several years ago provided this penetrating picture.
After a forest fire in Yellowstone National Park, forest rangers began their trek up a mountain to assess the inferno's damage. One ranger found a bird literally petrified in ashes, perched statuesquely on the ground at the base of a tree.
Somewhat sickened by the eerie sight, he knocked over the bird with a stick. When he struck it, three tiny chicks scurried from under their dead mother's wings. The loving mother, keenly aware of impending disaster, had carried her offspring to the base of the tree and had gathered them under her wings, instinctively knowing that the toxic smoke would rise. She could have flown to safety but had refused to abandon her babies. When the blaze had arrived and the heat had singed her small body, the mother had remained steadfast. Because she had been willing to die, those under the cover of her wings would live.
I Man's Need for Security
A Like the chicks, people everywhere need to be sheltered, protected, covered. People everywhere need a sense of security.
I say that because of everything that can go wrong in life. People get betrayed, or old, or sick. Or they face disappointment after disappointment in life. Or the doctor orders tests and the report says cancer or heart disease or Parkinson's or leukemia. Or there is conflict with loved ones. Or they are lonely and bitter and ignored and forgotten. Or they have burned out on alcohol and drugs. Or they have been sexually abused or physically mistreated as a young child.
People everywhere need a sense of security. According to a news article, the security or protection industry is one of the fastest growing industries in North America. In homes and offices people are putting sensors on windows, fancy locks and bolts on doors, and motion detectors in rooms. Alarms, cameras, and electrified fences are being used to protect persons and property. Security firms cannot keep up with the business.
B To people everywhere looking for a sense of security the psalmist speaks a word of comfort. It is one of the great and wondrous themes of the Bible: God is our refuge and fortress, He is our shelter. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4).
The psalmist undoubtedly has an eagle in mind. The bird senses danger and protectively spreads out its wings. Its chicks quickly take cover underneath where they are safe and sheltered. I read this past week that this move is so instinctive that when danger approaches an adult eagle will spread its wings even when no chicks are around.
When the psalmist faces danger he thinks of God and compares Him to an eagle. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). The point is that God is our refuge and fortress; He is our shelter. He defends us, guards us, protects us, and keeps us safe in the troubles and trials of life.
I am sure you have seen the sign in a window that warns would-be thieves and robbers: "Notice. These premises are protected by an alarm." We have one of these signs in the church office. God's people also wear a warning sign: "Notice. These premises are protected by God." That's what Psalm 91 is saying.
C A number of years ago I was looking over letters written during World War II. It was correspondence between girls in the States and their brothers or sweethearts serving overseas. Almost every single letter contained a reference to Psalm 91:
(Ps 91:2) I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."What encouraging words for the soldiers facing danger!
(Ps 91:4) He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge ...
(Ps 91:7) A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.
(Ps 91:9-10) If you make the Most High your dwelling-- even the LORD, who is my refuge-- (10) then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.
I read somewhere that many of those same soldiers recited or sang the words of Psalm 91 as they waved good-bye to loved ones for the last time, as they marched onto troop transports or buckled down in planes, as they landed on the beaches of Normandy or on islands controlled by the Japanese. They faced incredible danger, they attacked with bullets whizzing around them – only because they knew of the Lord's protecting care.
D Psalm 91 calls us to be like children. Most small children have no burdens. They don't go to bed at night worrying about paying the bills. They don't spend half the night wondering if the ache in their chest is an impending heart-attack. They don't spend any time thinking that the pain in their leg is caused by a tumor or blood-clot. No, they simply lay themselves down to sleep and drift off. They drift off because everything is safe and secure in their world, because they know they are safe in the keeping and care of their parents. When parents take proper care of their children, they are able to rest secure in the knowledge that someone else is in charge, someone big and strong, someone who knows what to do no matter what the situation. As far as little children are concerned, parents guard the fort all night long, checking doors and windows, turning the temperature up or down, keeping intruders and monsters away. Parents are seen as fierce and fearless watch-dogs who always guard and protect and keep.
Under the wings of God we can be safe and secure like little children want to be and need to be.
II Can We Believe This Picture?
A "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). Now, I wonder. I wonder if we can really take God at His word. How secure are we under the wings of God?
You see, I ask this because of what I have seen and heard and read during the last thirty years of life. Is it possible that any of the soldiers with Psalm 91 on their lips died on the beaches of Normandy during World War II? Is it possible that someone under the wings of God died in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11? I think you all realize that was the case. So what exactly does Psalm 91 means? What exactly does God promise in Psalm 91?
You read Psalm 91 and you can't help but notice that it offers comprehensive coverage, that it promises the protection of God against almost everything and anything.
(Ps 91:3,5-6) Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence ... (5) You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, (6) nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
Are we to take this literally? That's how some people interpret this psalm. They say I don't have to fear the deadly pestilence when my son's temperature soars and he goes into a coma; I am sure that this past week you heard of the parents who on this basis refused their child medial care. They say I don't need to be scared about the terror of night; I can live in the ghetto and I don't have to lock my doors or close my windows against night-time intruders. They say I don't need to worry about the plague, the anthrax, that comes in the mail. They say if I don't take Psalm 91 literally, then something is seriously wrong and flawed with my faith.
B "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). I think you all realize that faith in the sheltering wings of God does not remove the need for precaution and common sense. We can't expect traveling mercies if we ignore State Department travel advisories to Afghanistan. We can't expect a safe camping trip in the Sequoias if we neglect to use a bear box for our food. We can't expect to live a long, full, and healthy life if we abuse our bodies with no exercise, little sleep, and too much food. We can't expect to avoid cancer, liver disease, and asthma if we smoke and pop and snort and drink. We can't expect God to keep us safe if we drink and drive or go down the highway at 120 MPH. God, in His providence, may do some or all of this, but we can't expect Him to do so on the basis of Psalm 91.
Consider, for a moment, the example of Jesus. You may recall that when he tempted Jesus, Satan used Psalm 91. Satan had Jesus stand at the highest point of the temple. "If you are the Son of God," he said, "throw yourself down." Then he quoted Psalm 91:
(Mt 4:6) He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.Jesus replied with, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test" (Mt 4:7).
Do you know what Jesus is teaching us? He is teaching us that we cannot act like a fool and then count on God to protect us from our own foolishness. God may protect us anyway. But we cannot and may not figure on God protecting us when we act foolish.
C "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). This brings us back to the question of what kind of protection do we get under His wings? If God does not promise protection from foolish acts, what does He promise?
I think we all realize that faith in the sheltering wings of God does not remove physical danger either. The sheltering wings of God does not keep Christians from being terribly hurt or maimed by a drunk driver. The sheltering wings of God does not keep Christians from being injured in a tornado or earthquake or forest fire. The sheltering wings of God does not keep Christians from being robbed and shot by a criminal. The sheltering wings of God does not keep Christians from getting cancer or leukemia or heart disease or AIDS or anthrax.
D "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). C. S. Lewis tells us that this verse taken literally is bad for the church. Consider what would happen if believers and their children were always saved from floods like believing Noah and his family; if criminals would pass out whenever they pointed their gun at a Christian; if Christ-believers were always protected from acts of terrorism; if Christians were immune to AIDS, anthrax, and hepatitis; if Christians didn't have to worry about downturns in the stock market or in milk prices. Our churches would be filled with people who are attracted to the faith for the wrong reason. Our churches would be filled with people who see the church and faith as insurance against life's troubles and problems.
There are preachers and churches telling people to become Christians so they can get rich or be happy. These preachers and churches take Psalm 91 literally! They offer people blanket protection against poverty, accident, acts of war, and just plain foolish behavior. This is a false Gospel, a lie, that they are proclaiming!
III Eternal Security
A "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). So what does the sheltering wings of God do? The message of God in Psalm 91 is that no final or ultimate evil shall befall us when we are under His wings.
Bad things happen to good people. A loved one can die. A spouse can prove to be unfaithful. Someone close to us can be afflicted with a fatal disease. Yet, bad as all this can be, none of this can do us eternal harm because we are under His wings. That's the message of Psalm 91.
"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4). When it comes right down to it, the message of Psalm 91 is the same as the Spirit-inspired message of Paul to the church at Rome. You know what he wrote:
(Rom 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.Whatever comes our way – whether it is tribulation, distress, death, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, or sword – God works it out for our ultimate good.
B Paul also wrote that nothing can ever separate us from the love of God. You know what he said:
(Rom 8:38-39) For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, (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.Just like the eagle stayed with its chicks in the Yellowstone fire, so God stays with us no matter what. That too is the message of Psalm 91. "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4).
C The forces of sin and evil can beat against us with everything they have. The fiery darts of the evil one are shot at us again and again. We may be scared and shaken. We may be roughed up a bit or even a lot. We may be bruised and sore. But we are eternally safe. And, we are eternally loved. Because we are under His wings. Those great wings have never folded. They have never collapsed. They have never deserted us. They are always there, like a canopy overhead.
"He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge" (Ps 91:4).
Not safe in body. Not safe in our foolishness. Not safe in our homes. Not even safe in our churches. But He does promise safety and love – eternal safety, eternal love – when we shelter under His wings.
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