Most of us don’t see much danger. We move from climate-controlled homes, to air conditioned offices by moving at cheetah speeds inside extraordinarily safe vehicles. When we get sick, we get cures for diseases that have killed millions in the past. We have medications that can alleviate chronic conditions and extend our lives beyond what most people in history had ever dreamed.
But there is still some danger. Our careful planning still can’t stop natural disasters from destroying belongings and taking lives. Modern medicine still can’t put off death forever, despite our best efforts. Sophisticated security systems still can’t prevent evil people from hurting us. Danger is still here.
So where should a Christian turn to encourage us when we’re in danger? Our Bible Emergency Numbers Christian t-shirt points us to Psalm 91. The psalm was made famous (besides being in the Bible) by the song On Eagle’s Wings , composed by Michael Joncas.
Psalm 91 is a psalm that shows amazing trust in God. LIke many of these psalms, it encourages Christians to see our God as a shelter, a fortress:
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
The whole psalm describes how God protects the people who call on his name. The Psalmist lists several dangers that people in his day might face, pestilence, darkness, arrows, and armies. He writes that God covers his people with his wings to protect them like a bird covers its young. God promises to protect his people.
The Psalmist summarizes his message when God speaks in the last few verses:
God promises to protect the people who call on his name.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Psalm 91 raises an obvious question, “How can these promises be true when Christians get hurt all the time?” One possible answer is that these Christians just don’t have enough faith. Here’s how the argument usually goes: If you believe enough, if you trust hard enough, if your faith is strong enough, then God will protect you.
It makes sense from a human perspective, too. People are transactional by nature. If someone does something nice for us, we often respond by doing nice things for them. We love the people who love us. Why wouldn’t God be the same way?
But God’s ways are different from ours. His love doesn’t wait for us to come to him. Instead, he comes to us, and he loves us long before we loved him. We can’t earn God’s promises even through our worship, praise, and faith. We are saved by grace after all.
Jesus is the perfect test case for how God’s promises work. He was the only perfect human being, which means he trusted his Father for everything. When Jesus was attacked in his hometown, the Father protected him. He watched over Jesus for his whole life.
Jesus trusted his Father so much that he wasn’t concerned about danger. Jesus and his disciples were out on the sea of Galilee when a storm arose. Jesus was exhausted from teaching all day, so he fell asleep on a pillow. The storm raged around the boat, and the disciples were terrified that they were going to drown. These were experienced fishermen who knew how to handle a boat. They weren’t easily scared.
But Jesus lay asleep, head on his pillow. That’s trust, to be so calm in a storm. Nature raged around him. His disciples were shouting. But Jesus slept as securely as a young child in his father’s arms. Jesus truly trusted his Father.
But the Father didn’t protect Jesus from all danger. Every Christian knows that story. Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, and the guards dragged him before the Sanhedrin. They beat him and falsely accused him before taking him to Pontius Pilate. The weak-willed Pilate succumbed to the crowd’s will, so he beat Jesus and whipped him. When that wasn’t enough, Pilate washed his hands of Jesus, and he allowed Jesus to be crucified.
Where were the promises of Psalm 91?
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
It promises that God will protect you from even striking your foot against a stone, but the Father sent Jesus to the cross to die! Even the Pharisees noticed that the Father’s promises seemed to fail. In Matthew 27:43 they say, “He trusts in God; let God deliver him now.”
And the Father did it. He delivered Jesus from death by raising him from the dead. After terrible danger, torture, and death, the Father saved him. Psalm 91’s promises finally came true after everyone thought they had failed.
The same is true for the holy martyrs. They trusted God, even when they faced torture and death. Consider St. Ignatius, a bishop from the first century AD. We know him best from a series of letters he wrote while Roman guards took him to the capital for execution.
In his letter to the Romans, chapter 4, he writes:
I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me… Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.
Can you imagine writing that? He tells the Roman church to refrain from saving him. Don’t try to get him out of jail. Don’t try to rescue him. He wants to be literally thrown to the lions. And, by doing so, he would receive the crown of life and prove to be a true Christian. Ignatius trusted that the Lord Almighty is a shelter and fortress. And just like Jesus, he will be raised up on the last day.
We know story after story of martyrs who died with this faith, men and women who would rather be crucified, thrown to lions, of beheaded than deny Jesus Christ. They trusted that God could deliver them even from death, because they knew that the Father had delivered Jesus from the same.
We can trust the psalmist’s words, too. Just like St. Ignatius and all the martyrs, we know that Jesus was raised from the dead. We also know that everyone who is in Christ will also be raised from the dead on the last day to receive eternal life.
Because we have been united with Christ in his death, we are also united with him in his resurrection. Paul writes in Romans 6:
We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
We can trust, even in the midst of terrible danger, that God’s promises will come true for us. Nothing can stop them, because they have already happened through Jesus. So, when you are in danger, turn to Psalm 91. You will see God’s promises to you to protect you even when you have passed into the grave.
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