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Fear

God Produces Fearlessness in His People

by Jeremy Menicucci · Psalm 91 · Psalms · Trinity PCA · May 16, 2021 · 1 year ago


This sermon was preached by Pastor Jeremy at Trinity PCA in Harrisburg, PA.


Psalm 91 (ESV) — 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— 10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”         


In C.S. Lewis’ book, Prince Caspian, the children are back in Narnia and they find out that Narnia is in ruins.

There’s a scene in the book where Lucy is attacked by a bear but she’s saved by Trumpkin. Susan was ready with an arrow to save Lucy but she didn't shoot.

Susan explains the reason why she didn’t shoot is because she was afraid. She didn’t know if it was a good bear or a bad bear.

Her fear gripped her and she wasn’t able to respond to the situation correctly. She was afraid and she didn’t know what to do in the moment of fear.

What’s interesting is her fear revealed something about her. It revealed something that she didn’t know.

So her fear showed us that 1). Fear is immobilizing. 2). Fear is revealing.

Fear is extremely good at revealing something about us. And what it reveals always has to do with our relationship with God.

Fear doesn’t just expose to us the nature of a situation. But it also shows where our trust is in the midst of a situation.

The difference between Susan and Trumpkin is that Trumpkin knew things about the situation that Susan did not.

And what Trumpkin knew gave him confidence to respond correctly to the situation.

So what should we do, should we analyze every possible situation and try to figure out every possible reaction that we should have?

Or is there something that we can learn this morning that will help us to avoid fear in any situation?

That’s exactly what we are looking at this morning.

God shows us that we don’t have to be fearful or anxious anymore.

The purpose of our sermon this morning is for us to see that fearlessness does not depend on the nature of our situations but rather on the nature of God.

We can be fearless in the midst of our situations not because of the nature of our situations but because of the nature of our God.

And in order to see how the nature of our God produces fearlessness in our lives we need to see three things from Psalm 91:

1). Put on Trust (vv. 1-4)

Ed Welch points out that children don’t need to learn how to be afraid. He says, “Somehow, without anyone telling them, they know they live in a world that isn’t safe.”

And this is the issue that Susan quickly found out. The bear attacked because there was something wrong in the world of Narnia.

And because there was something wrong in the world of Narnia a situation exists that causes fear. It’s an indication that there’s something that is wrong.

The difficulties that we might face is the fact that we experience extremely difficult or painful situations.

The things that we are going through or about to go through might be so significant that we become anxious or fearful about them.

We might fear how we’re going to make it financially, we might fear death, and we might even fear other people.

There might even be a global pandemic where a deadly pestilence is the concern.

Anxiety, concern, fear, these are things that are either closely related or they are synonymous.

You might not be actively afraid of something but you might have anxiety over something. You might be so concerned about something that even affects your thinking.

And the more that we focus on the nature of the situation the more we are prone to fear and anxiety.

And the problem is that when we focus on the nature of our situations God starts to seem so small to us.

When we view God through the sense of our situations, then God seems small and our situations seem big.

What we need to do is reverse this where we look at our situations through the lens of God so that God appears big to us and our situations look smaller, more manageable.

And that’s exactly what this Psalm does.

It’s explicitly here within our first point:

Psalm 91:1–4 (ESV) — 1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler and from the deadly pestilence. 4 He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.         

These verses show us what we need to know about who God is. And it shows us what we need to know about what God does.

God is a shelter. God has a protective shadow. God is a refuge. God is a fortress. That’s who God is.

And you can begin to see immediately what this produces in the life of the one who dwells in the shelter of God at the end of verse 2. It produces trust.

Knowing these things about God inspires confidence in us.

But it also tells us that God will deliver you, God will cover you, and God is faithful, so much so, that his faithfulness is a large shield and strong wall for you.

What God is, is protection. And what God does is protect. That’s what this passage is saying.

What God is produces faith. What God does shows his faithfulness.

It’s one thing to try to analyze every situation and try to figure out how to respond appropriately in each situation.

And it’s something totally different to know who God is and what God does so that you can be equipped to trust him no matter what situation comes.

And that’s the thing, is that I may not know what situation you are going through, it may be incredibly hard to relate to you,

Because I don’t know the situation you’re going through but I know the God who is with you and this God is a fortress.

There’s two specific dangers that Psalmist tells us that God is a fortress against. 1). The snare of the fowl and 2). The deadly pestilence.

“The prophet is the watchman of Ephraim with my God; yet a fowler’s snare is on all his ways, and hatred in the house of his God.

 They have deeply corrupted themselves as in the days of Gibeah: he will remember their iniquity; he will punish their sins.”

(Hosea 9:8–9 ESV)

The snare of the fowl is talking about the trap that hunter lays to catch his prey. The concept here is present in the New Testament.

Paul tells Timothy in 1 Timothy 3:7 to raise up leaders who have a good reputation with unbelievers. Because if they don’t they can fall into the snare of the devil.

There’s two ways that Satan gets leaders. If they’re new converts and if they have a bad reputation with unbelievers.

2 Timothy 2:22 says that the leaders also need to be kind because they mimic the kindness of God that leads unbelievers to repentance.

And when they lead unbelievers to repentance they escape the snare of the devil.

1 Timothy 6:9 Paul warns us against the snare of temptation to become rich. This snare leads to many senseless and harmful desires.

Snares are senseless and harmful desires.

In other words, all of this points to the fact that the snares have to do with temptation to sin.

And we might be concerned because we have given in to temptation. Have we lost our ability to abide the shadow of the Most High?

We have a problem because we’ve already not been protected, it seems, from temptation. How is this Psalm going to help us trust in God when it appears that temptation, the snare, the trap gets us so easily.

The hope of this passage is: 1). It describes our trust in God but it also describes God’s faithfulness.

“What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?

By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.””

(Romans 3:3–4 ESV)

2). This passage ultimately teaches us about Christ and how His Father through the Holy Spirit was a shelter for him

“Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple”

(Matthew 4:5 ESV)

The temple is God’s dwelling place. That’s the place where Christ actually should be protected and yet here is being tempted by Satan.

Jesus succeeded in remaining in the shelter of God for us so that even when we fall into the snare he is able to restore us back into the shelter of God.

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

(1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV)

Augustine comments on this passage and says, “He then who so imitates Christ as to endure all the troubles of this world, with his hopes set upon God, that he falls into no snare, is broken down by no panic fears, he it is “who dwelleth under the defence of the Most High, who shall abide under the protection of God.”[1]

This brings us to our second point.

2). Put off fear (vv. 5-7)

Psalm 91:5–7 (ESV) — 5 You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day, 6 nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness, nor the destruction that wastes at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you.         

When we know who God is and what God does, it produces trust within us because we know that God is trustworthy.

And when you know who God is and what God does it produces faith which is the antidote to fear.

So what happens when verse 1-4 are in place, verse 5 is the result. You will not fear.

But we have a problem. Verse 3 told us that God will deliver us from deadly pestilence and now verse 6 tells us that we don’t have to fear deadly pestilence

But we’ve been witnessing COVID for an entire year wreaking havoc on the world.

Verse 10 even says that no plague will come near you. And yet the plague has come near us. It’s touched many of us in one way or the other.

Has the promise of God failed when we see a virus like this that seems to have been out of control for so long?

And how then can we trust God to be a refuge for us from everything else in this passage if there’s one thing that he seemingly cannot protect us against?

There’s a peculiar account of Jesus Christ in Luke 5:17-26.

The context there tells that the Lord was with Christ in order for him to heal people. He had already been healing people.

And there’s a paralyzed man whose friends brought him to Christ. It was clear to Jesus that this man was paralyzed.

And yet Jesus’ initial response to him is not to heal him. Instead Jesus forgives his sins first and then only heals him to prove to the Pharisees that he has the ability to forgive sins.

In John 11, he let Lazarus die. John 11:21, Martha says if you had been here my brother would not have died.

Martha’s follow up, however, is so important. She said, “I know that whatever you ask from God, God will give it you.”

And then Jesus responds, “Your brother will rise.”

And then he says that even though someone will die, if they believe in Him they will live. And then he says that they will never die.

This reminds us of Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego,

“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.””

(Daniel 3:17–18 ESV)

God will protect you from pestilence but even if he doesn’t he will still ultimately protect you from it by raising you from the dead in the future.

It’s a picture of your eternal state when you finally take refuge in God.

And one of the reasons why we have the hope is because Jesus already was protected from the deadly pestilence and also rose from the dead

He gave us a picture of what our future life will be like when he totally and finally redeems us.

William Plumer comments, “It was not possible that [Jesus] should die by accident, by the assassin or by disease.”

So it is true that God will protect you one way or the other from the pestilence. And what this produces in us is the ability to be fearless in the face of pestilence.

Do not fear COVID. Take it seriously? Of course. Act responsibly? Yes. But fear it? Dear Christian your God is on the throne, the God of the virus, who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it?

John Calvin explains the reason why it is that we can still experience things like pestilence:

Whatever be the kind of tribulation with which we are afflicted, we should always consider the end of it to be, that we may be trained to despise the present, and thereby stimulated to aspire to the future life. For since God well knows how strongly we are inclined by nature to a slavish love of this world, in order to prevent us from clinging too strongly to it, he employs the fittest reason for calling us back, and shaking off our lethargy.  In short, the whole soul, ensnared by the allurements of the flesh, seeks its happiness on the earth. To meet this disease, the Lord makes his people sensible of the vanity of the present life, by a constant proof of its miseries.[2]

 

3). Persevere (vv. 8-16)

Psalm 91:8–16 (ESV) — 8 You will only look with your eyes and see the recompense of the wicked. 9 Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— 10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent. 11 For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. 12 On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone. 13 You will tread on the lion and the adder; the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot. 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him. 16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”         

Earlier we mentioned how Christ is the one who endured the snare of the enemy in Matthew 4 and saw how Christ is ultimately the one who dwelt in the shelter of the Most High so that we can dwell in the same shelter.

So I’m sure that our minds are immediately brought back to Matthew 4 because our Psalm here is used by Satan to tempt Jesus.

In Matthew 4:6 Satan attempts to quote this passage to get Jesus to jump off the highest part of the Temple.

As a means of proving that he’s the Son of God. Because if he’s the Son of God this passage proves that the angels will come and save him.

At first it might seem like it would make sense for Jesus to quote the rest of the Psalm in context because the rest of the Psalm actually shows Jesus as defeating Satan.

Verse 13 is clearly a reference back to Genesis 3:15, which promised that Christ would crush the head of the serpent.

Satan was tempting Jesus that he could jump and not strike his foot against the stone and the irony is that Christ isn’t going to strike his foot against the stone,

Rather he’s going to strike the head of the one who was tempting him.

But Jesus quotes a different passage in response to Satan which is even more important to our passage.

He quotes Deuteronomy 6:16, you shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

Satan was trying to tempt Jesus to prove he’s the Son of God. And yet Jesus proves that he is Yahweh by quoting Deuteronomy 6:16 and applying it to himself.

Which means that Jesus declared that he is the refuge and the fortress out there in the wilderness eliminating the ultimate snare by enduring Satan’s temptation on our behalf.

And because we have been united to Christ what’s true about this Psalm with respect to Christ is true about us.

So when God describes his loving care of Christ in Psalm 91:14-16 and because we’ve been united to Christ these words ring true for you today:

Psalm 91:14–16 (ESV) — 14 “Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name. 15 When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.

Romans 8:38–39 (ESV) — 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.         

16 With long life I will satisfy him and show him my salvation.”

When I was a kid I was afraid of the dark. I had a large room that I shared with my brothers.

What was interesting is that I was afraid of the dark even when my brothers were in the room.

We had a walk in closet and if the door to the closet wasn’t shut I would for sure think someone or something was in it.

I used to have a lot of nightmares when I was a kid, all of this made it difficult to sleep.

But the moment that my dad would come in, it was all immediately over. Always. It never failed. Knowing that my dad was in the room, I was fearless.

The more that you understand that God is not just with you but you’re life is hidden with Christ in God.

God is currently your shelter now and will ultimately be your shelter permanently. The less you will fear things.

No evil will befall you but even if evil does come upon you, like Joseph and Romans 8:28-30 what was meant for evil is still meant for you good.

Trust in God, do not fear, and persevere.


[1] Augustine of Hippo, “Expositions on the Book of Psalms,” in Saint Augustin: Expositions on the Book of Psalms, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. A. Cleveland Coxe, vol. 8, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1888), 446.

[2] John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 2 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 285–286.

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