Psalm 121 (Second Sunday in Lent—Series A)
“Look to the Hill”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
March 12, 2017
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Psalm appointed for the Second Sunday in Lent, Psalm 121:
1A song of ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? 2My help is from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth. 3He will not set your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. 4Behold, He who keeps Israel will not slumber and He will not sleep. 5Yahweh is the One who keeps you. Yahweh is the One who is your shade at your right hand. 6By day the sun will not smite you nor the moon in the night. 7Yahweh will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life. 8Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in from now and forevermore.
He had left the village of Ur of the Chaldeans which would be in modern day Iraq. His wife, father, and nephew migrated to Haran, many miles west of the city of Nineveh. There in Haran, God called Abram to a journey, to go to “the land that I will show you.” And Abram went, as Yahweh had commanded him and, at 75 years-old, he left Haran to go to the specifically unknown place that God would give to him and his descendants (Gen. 17:8). Yahweh promised Abram that He would make of him “a great nation.” God said, “I will bless you and make your name great so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and I you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:2-3).
Abram had to trust God. He had to believe that God would keep His promise, and in the meantime, also guard and protect Abram. The writer to the Hebrews highlights Abram’s faith in chapter 11, “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (vv. 8-10). Belief. Faith. Trust in God’s Word of Promise even when you don’t know where you are going, even when you cannot see the end results.
Jesus called Nicodemus to a journey also. It was not a journey where he would travel to a new home, but a journey of belief, faith, and trust in God’s Word of Promise, nonetheless. Jesus answered him, “’Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ Nicodemus said to him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?’ Jesus answered, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit’” (Jn. 3:3-6 ESV). Jesus was offering Nicodemus a whole new life—an abundant life, an eternal life—through the Good News that God the Father “so loved the world that He gave His One-of-a-kind Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” Belief. Faith. Trust in God’s Word of Promise even when you cannot understand the works and ways of God.
Both Abraham and Nicodemus were gifted faith and trust in God’s Word of Promise. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through that spoken Word in the case of Abraham, and the spoken Word by the Word-of-God-Made-Flesh sitting directly in front of Nicodemus, faith was created in their hearts. They believed, they trusted, and God credited it to them both as righteousness. “The righteous shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).
The gift of faith is yours and mine as well. Notice, faith or trust in the Promises of God is a gift. It isn’t something that we possess naturally. It is not something that we can earn or buy. If Abraham or Nicodemus, or you and I, are going to believe in God’s Promises, that faith MUST be gifted to us by God the Holy Spirit. We must be “born again from above by water and the Spirit” in the washing of Holy Baptism (which is nothing less than God’s Word of Promise combined with water!) Through that Means of Grace, God the Holy Spirit gives us saving faith, trust, belief in Promises of God that are all “Yes” in Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 1:20). So Paul writes in Ephesians 2, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (vv. 8-9).
It is this gift of faith that empowers and enables you and me to journey through life in the assurance that the Lord Himself will always guard and keep us in His protection. It is that trust and faith in God’s Promises which are at the very heart of Psalm 121. Listen and count how many times the Psalmist uses the word “keep,” which means to guard and protect.
I lift up my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help is from Yahweh, who made heaven and earth. He will not set your foot to slip; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will not slumber and He will not sleep. Yahweh is the One who keeps you. Yahweh is the One who is your shade at your right hand. By day the sun will not smite you nor the moon in the night. 7Yahweh will keep you from all evil. He will keep your life. Yahweh will keep your going out and your coming in from now and forevermore.
I counted 6 times. This psalm is about trusting by means of the gift of faith that God will keep you both now and forevermore. God’s promises are eternal promises. They are as good today as they will be in eternity.
Consider the Israelite traveler journeying to Jerusalem for one of the three great festivals: Passover, Pentecost, or Tabernacles. He would see the various hills and mountains of Judea and, as if asking himself a rhetorical question says, “From which one of those hills does my help come from?” The answer: his help comes from the hill on which Jerusalem and the Temple are built because that is the place where Yahweh had chosen to dwell among His covenant people. The psalmist and traveler’s help is from Yahweh Himself, the very Triune God who made heaven and earth. It is this God, and this God alone, who makes sure your feet don’t slip. He won’t fall asleep on you and let you down. He’s your keeper, your guard, your protector who won’t even let the sun or the moon get at you. Yahweh will keep you from all evil, guarding your very life in body and soul. All your going-outs and coming-ins, your daily routines, are protected by Him.
You and I need this assurance on life’s journey. We need the gift of faith so that we are able to trust these promises of God, that He will indeed guard and protect us and keep us in His love and grace until we are with Him forever. Dr. Luther rightly points out in The Small Catechism that the devil, the world, and our own sinful nature oppose God and oppose us as children of God by faith (Explanation to The Third Petition). In his Explanation of the Seventh Petition of the Lord’s Prayer, “But deliver us from evil,” Luther writes, “We pray in this petition, in summary, that our Father in heaven would rescue us from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation, and finally, when our last hour comes, give us a blessed end, and graciously take us from this valley of sorrow to Himself in heaven.”
Our journey in faith is never promised to be easy or simple. In fact, it is one in which we, like our Lord and Savior, must take up our crosses daily. The life of faith is a life of suffering, a life of cross-bearing, a life of enduring the troubling of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. These seek to rip us away from God because we are made new in Christ through Baptism—by water and the Spirit. We also live in a world ruined by sin. We live life with the consequences of our own sins as well as the sins of others.
In the midst of so many dangers and troubles, faith looks to the hills. But not just any hill. Not to the Temple mount nor to the Holy City Jerusalem as they did in the days of old. We look to a hill outside Jerusalem, far removed from the Temple. The eyes of faith look upon a cross planted on Mt. Calvary. Faith looks to Him who hung there bleeding and dying for the sins of the world—the Son of Man, Jesus Christ, lifted up so that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life (John 3:15). From the cross of Jesus flows life in abundance. From the cross of Christ flows forgiveness of sins. From the cross of the Savior flows the gift of saving faith with the assurance that in Christ, God is for us and not against us. He is our help. He is our shade at our right hand. God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit is the Lord who will keep us from all evil; He will keep our life for eternal life come what may. For not even death has power over us anymore because Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and can no longer die again.
By grace, through faith, we lift up our eyes to the hill and we see the empty cross, stained with blood, and know that we have a Risen Savior, a Living Lord, a God who is always faithful to us even when we are unfaithful to Him. In this world ruined by sin, the Lord keeps us from harm and helps us to endure the troubles that He allows to come into our lives. We read in Romans 5, “Through [Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:2-5 ESV).
Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” You have been given this faith, this trust, in the Lord who has saved you from sin, death, and the power of the devil. By water and the Spirit, you have been given the forgiveness of sins through the Gospel promises of Christ. You have eternal life. You possess the absolute assurance that your help is from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. The very Creator is your Savior, your Redeemer, Jesus Christ. He will keep, guard, and protect your going out and your coming in from now and forevermore. And if you ever need proof—look to the hill, look the cross, and be comforted in the work of Christ. Amen.