Armed Forces Sunday – 2017 LSB #656
Text – Psalm 46:1
God is our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble.
GOD IS OUR REFUGE & STRENGTH
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ Jesus, the sermon for this 2017 Ministry to the Armed Forces Sunday is based on Psalm 46. That psalm is also the basis for the Battle Hymn of the Reformation written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” (LSB 656) Luther wrote this great hymn in the year 1529 – probably for the Diet of Spires.
Psalm 46 tells of a miraculous victory for the children of Israel during the days when King Jehoshaphat was on the throne. The nomadic tribes of the Moabites, Ammonites & Edomites were gathered together in siege against God’s people. Things looked dismal for them. Only a miracle of God could save them, & they knew it. So Jehoshaphat turned to the LORD.
God responded through His prophet Jahaziel, “…Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s.” (2 Chronicles 20:15 NIV) The true God filled the enemy armies with confusion & they began to fight one another. The battle was fierce & the outcome was devastating. They ended up destroying each other.
When the morning hours arrived & the children of Israel saw what had happened, they immediately knew that this victory was not theirs but God’s. Moved by the Holy Spirit, the sons of Korah, hymn writers for the children of Israel, penned this 46th psalm which tells us:
“God is our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea... The LORD of hosts is with us... Come, behold the works of the LORD... Be still, & know that I am God.” (ESV)
500 years ago Martin Luther recognized the close parallel between what he saw in the
lives of the children of Israel & what he saw in his own life & the unfolding of the Reformation.
In either case, these words applied: “A mighty fortress is our God, a trusty shield & weapon; He helps us free from every need that hath us now o’ertaken. The old evil foe now means deadly woe; deep guile & great might are his dread arms in fight; on earth is not his equal.” LSB 656:1
We could summarize it: “Don’t ever forget that your God is a mighty, saving God.” Yes, the LORD is truly & always will be the believer’s refuge & strength. Whenever you think the going is getting tough, whenever questions arise in your mind as to whether God really is aware of you & your problems – remember yours is a God about whom we can boldly say:
“God is our refuge & strength.” Yes, a mighty fortress is our God. He has freed us from every bondage that wants to bind us for eternity. He was so in the times when Psalm 46 was written. He was so in the days when Luther wrote the hymn. He is so this day in your life. And He will ever be such a God to the ends of time & beyond.
Yes, God truly is our refuge & our strength. If you reject Him as your God, then you must contend with Satan all by yourself. You must do battle with that old evil foe who uses his immense power, deep guile & subtle trickery to enslave you. Lucifer will use both his power & deception as the one-two punch of dreadful arms to destroy you.
No human being on this earth – you, me, the wisest woman, the strongest man, the youngest baby or the oldest person – is equal to the task of fighting & prevailing against the old evil foe. For we are not contending against flesh & blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness.
“With might of ours can naught be done, soon were our loss effected; but for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, of Sabaoth Lord, & there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.” LSB 656:2 Imagine being the children of Israel surrounded by three armies. Defeat is imminent; impending destruction & doom are but hours & minutes away. Oh, dear God, we are lost. You alone are our hope.
Before Luther came to an understanding of the Gospel, he too was lost. Writing to a friend, he stated: “I daily find myself approaching closer & still closer to hell.” He signed the letter “an exiled son of Adam.” But then, with all thanks & glory to God, he came to understand that he could not earn peace & forgiveness from God.
Rather, peace & forgiveness already have been earned for us through the life, death & resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. Salvation is a free gift from our heavenly Father to all who believe in the Valiant One as their Savior. Luther had come to know that God is our only hope & thus he truly wrote ‘A Mighty Fortress’ out of his heart.
Like Luther, we are not unaware of our sins & transgressions before God. We know we daily sin much & indeed deserve nothing but God’s wrath & damnation. We also know if God were to deal with us according to His justice, there’d be only one thing He could say to us: “Depart from Me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil & his angels.”
But thanks be to God, you & I have come to know a God who not only sent His Son into this world to keep the Law perfectly in our place, but a Son who also died on the cross & rose victorious to pay for your sins, my sins, & the sins of everyone. God is our refuge & strength from anything that truly threatens us.
Prior to his discovery of the free gift of God’s grace in Christ, even Luther had moments – lots of moments – when he felt despair. Under the sentence of death & the spiritual assault of the old evil foe, he had nowhere to turn but to the LORD.
Like Martin Luther, if relying on our own might, we can do absolutely nothing to defeat our enemies. Soon would be our demise, our downfall & our destruction. Fortunately & blessedly, there is a Valiant One who has stepped onto the battlefield for you & for me. Do you not see Him – this Champion come to wage war & fight on our behalf?
We would never have chosen Him – a baby in a manger in Bethlehem – this Man from Galilee who comes armed only as the Word of God. Yet this is the One whom God has elected to fight the battle in our place & to stand in our stead. Do you ask, “Who is this?” Jesus the Christ – the Messiah – it is. This is the LORD of Sabaoth.
God sent His Son to defeat sin, death & the devil. “Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, he can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; one little word can fell him.” LSB 656:3
Yet, the forces of evil still do a great deal of damage. Psalm 46 declares that the nations rage, the kingdoms totter. There are wars – physical & spiritual – being carried out today. Early in the Reformation, Luther was summoned to the city of Worms, to defend his faith & the truth of God’s Word. He was advised by many not to go. He very well could be put to death.
His reply was: “Even if there are more devils on the rooftops than clay shingles, I will still go to Worms & defend the truth of God’s Word.” His confidence didn’t come from strength within but from the conviction that the LORD was leading his life even if it meant death.
The devil’s purposes are thwarted by one little word. What is that word? It is no secret nor is it magic. It is the name of the LORD – the name of the Triune God. Into His Name you were baptized. It is the name which is above every name; at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven & on earth & under the earth, & every tongue confess – Jesus Christ is LORD.
One little word can refute the devil. One little word takes you from the kingdom of darkness & transfers you to the kingdom of light. That word was heard from the cross, one word – tetelestai. It is finished – precious words from Jesus as He died & defeated Satan for us. In the darkness of the cross & in the silence of that empty tomb – behold the works of the LORD. He says, Be still, & know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth!
“The Word they still shall let remain nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts & Spirit. And take they our life, goods, fame, child & wife, though these all be gone, our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” LSB 656:4 Based on those lyrics, imagine the following scene.
You are a parent, sitting upstairs in your home in Wittenberg of present-day Germany. In your arms is your dying daughter, a young girl named Magdalena – your little girl whom you love so much. You say with tears flowing from your eyes:
“Oh, how it hurts to lose my little Maggie. But God wants her, & she is His. Therefore I release her into the hands of a gracious & loving God.”
Perhaps you get a sense of the agony & the victory behind the words in the stanza Luther penned. “And take they our life, goods, fame, son, daughter, husband, wife, even if these are all gone, yet the forces of evil have not won. The Kingdom remains mine.” Your life has not been free from the troubles that often bring tears to your eyes & sorrow to your heart.
Perhaps the troubles have come in the form of illness, family difficulties or financial struggles. Perhaps you have stood at the deathbed of a loved one, feeling the burden of life weighing down upon you. Even on such tragic days – God is your refuge & your strength.
Near the end of Luther’s life, he traveled to Eisleben. The trip was difficult. He had severe chest pains & knew the end was approaching. He prayed, “The pain is so severe, God, but I am ready to come home to you, Father.” Shortly before his death, when he was asked, “Brother Martin, are you willing to die in that faith which you have proclaimed?” Luther said with much gusto, “Yes, yes.” Shortly thereafter he fell asleep in the LORD – into the hands of God, our refuge & strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.
You know the day will come, sooner or later, when you will die & face your God & Creator. Yet, you need not fear. You have Jesus, who has said, I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine. Nothing & no one can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus. He is your refuge & strength. He is your mighty fortress & your God! Amen.
The peace of God that surpasses all human understanding will guard your hearts & your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet