Our Mighty Fortress
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Our Mighty Fortress
Pastor Greg Martin
When you have been crushed and knocked down by life and people and sin, by the stuff that goes wrong in day-to-day living, what do we do to carry on? How do we get beyond the bad stuff of life? Most of us instinctively look to our own resources. No one likes to fail or admit defeat in the face of adversity. If we live long enough we know something unfortunate will befall all of us. People we have trusted will disappoint us or even fail us. We know very well that we cannot control natural disasters. Hugo, Katrina, Gustav have proven that. We are but specks sitting on a fragile mass called Earth, spinning on a predictable path through the universe, where billions of other unstable or just plain inert masses do the same. What is there to prohibit their paths from crossing? If someone told you that inside your body, just under the surface there is a molten hot mass under tremendous pressure, looking for a way to get out, you’d be figuring out a way to deal with it. That is just what is happening at the core of the earth, and the people of China recently discovered the efforts of that unstable force at work.
The Psalmist viewed his world with these images: “though the earth be moved (earthquakes), though the mountains be toppled into the depths of the sea (earthquakes and volcanoes), though its waters rage and foam (tsunamis and hurricanes).” Reality is not that we who are in control of things as we wish we were or think we are.
I do not make these observations to frighten you. I know that many people live in fear of day-to-day living already. Recent economic disasters, uncertainties as who is the best person to lead our nation into the future, continued involved of our sons and daughters on foreign soil in harms way give us pause to reflect on what life have become and will look like tomorrow. We don’t know if we will be afflicted or struck down, suffer loss or experience defeat. Nature’s wrath may be unleashed upon us in storm or earth’s convulsions. People will do the unpredictable that will affect us sometimes favorably and sometimes not. Then we have ourselves to live with: guilt, feelings of inadequacy or overconfidence, vulnerability and doubts. Everyone wants to feel affirmed and loved, yet we often have a hard time loving ourselves and aren’t sure about the love of others in our lives.
People turn to all kinds of places to get through what I have just described. Self help and self-analysis and self-improvement and self-medication are one track. Experts, scientists, physicians, counselors, therapists, support groups, church, family members and loved ones: what would we do without each other? Yet the Word of God affirms one more source of help and hope:
“God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble…..
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our stronghold….
Come now and look upon the works of the Lord,
what awesome things he has done on earth.”
One thing that our prideful, sinful self often deceives us in is we think we can do it ourselves, and the results are often negligence of the very source of help that could see us through. We like to think we are in control of things until we are humbled by something overwhelming of which we have little or no control such as those things mentioned in the Psalm. The Prophet Jeremiah realized that when the children of Israel returned to their land after exile in Babylon for over 70 years, things would be different. The chief difference would be in their relationship with God.
If you are evaluating the efficacy of a source of help such as God, consider the Prophet’s understanding of what the Lord is willing to do. The Lord says through Jeremiah that God will establish a new covenant. The Old Covenant is no longer effective since Israel broke it on numerous occasions. They came out of their tragic captivity where God was their help in sending Cyrus to liberate them, as a different people. They are no longer a nation, yet they are still God’s people, and God has a new regard for them. God’s covenant will be upon their hearts, a part of them, so that they will surely know God.
The verb “to know” as used here is the same one used in Genesis when it says Adam knew Eve. The implication is there is an intimacy between the two, a sense of love and care that they would engage in a sexual relationship of intimacy, not lust. So for the children of Israel to know the Lord implies closeness to God so much so that doing God’s will is a natural extension of who they are. God’s law is no longer a burden but a natural part of their lives.
Later we would hear the apostle Paul say of his relationship to Jesus, that it was “no longer he who lived, but Jesus who lived in him.” For this people in captivity, such good news of a new beginning became a reminder that there is help; there is hope in all things and it come from God. God does not turn from us when we sin. There may be logical consequences we suffer because of our sinning, and this we must endure, but God is with us. God’s love pursues us. “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” And to what extent does God’s help go? “For I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” It becomes obvious to me that God’s help is much more substantial than what we ourselves come up with. We may be willing to forgive one another’s transgressions, hurts, but to remember them no more, that’s a horse of another color!
We may believe that there are many lost causes we encounter in the course of life. But is our sinful condition that is of most concern to God, for it would keeps us from what God desires to give us, life with Him forever. Paul takes up that issue with the Romans in the second lesson for today. Again, the children of Israel clung to the law as their means of salvation. The old covenant of Moses, Jeremiah spoke of as passé, and they would live under a new covenantal relationship with God. Yet when the Temple was restored their lives returned to the old way: we can do it on our own.
The true imprint of a law upon the heart came in the person of Jesus Christ. Paul taught
“no human being will be justified (made right with God) in God’s sight by deeds prescribed by the law.” Apart from the law the righteousness of God comes to us through faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, it is through having faith, trust, and belief in what Jesus did for our sake that we can even appear as right before God. God Himself has dealt with your sinful condition. When we could do nothing to help ourselves, to earn or even be deserving of God’s love and forgiveness, God sent His only Son as the new covenant. It is in embracing Jesus in our lives, it is in believing his teachings; it is in having a true relationship with Him that we find real help, real hope.
How is this possible? Paul goes on to say: we are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood effective through faith. There my friends is the Reformation doctrine that Luther embraced, which changed the face of the Christian Church and set people free from religious oppression in the 1500’s. What Paul and later Luther were saying is we are not lost, nor are we without help or hope. “God is our refuge and our strength; a very present help in time of trouble.”
We are made right in our relationship with God because of the Lord’s love for us, and it comes as a gift to be received or to be rejected by us. We have been bought back from sin because God gave to the world the sacrifice of His Son Jesus, who through his death upon the cross has paid the price for our sinning, a price we could never afford to pay. And because of this God has even passed over former sins, gives us a clean slate, all for us if we only believe it to be so. Paul goes on to say that we have nothing to boast of in this matter. God is our help not we ourselves. Our works, our vain attempts fall short, but God can make us fit for His kingdom.
This is the truth that Jesus speaks of in the Gospel text. “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” God’s truth is Jesus. The fullness of God’s love, God heart, God’s will is known it him. It is in a relationship with Jesus that one will know the truth of life and be set free for a more abundant life that what the world can offer.
My invitation this Reformation Sunday to you is very simple: it is to trust the help, the hope, the love of God that is available to you when your world seems to be crumbling and crashing in on you. It is acknowledgement that we are not alone in life’s journey that the Lord God just might care for us as much as we think others do. It is to have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior, who can set you free to be what God would have you be, and did so through the blood of his new covenant shed upon a cross. It is to know that someone cares more about you than you care for yourself, pursues you in love, forgives you of your sin, and promises to bring you at last to His eternal kingdom. May your confession this day echo the words of Martin Luther as he stood before the Papal Tribunal at Worms and confessed: “My heart is captive to the word of God. I cannot, I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” May your heart be captive to the word of God, by the love of God, who is with us, who is our help, our stronghold, now and forever. Amen
Copyright 2008, Greg Martin. Used by permission.