Sunday, January 01, 2006

Sermon Reflections

We had a guest speaker at church this morning, Dr. Willem VanGemeren, a professor of Old Testament and Semitic languages at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

He preached on Psalm 91, but as is his practice, he put it into the context of Psalm 89 and 90, too. It was a mighty sermon and one that was particularly appropriate for the beginning of a New Year.

Here's the text:

91:1 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.”

He spent some time drawing out the organization of the Psalm. In verse 1, there is a general call to all men everywhere:

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

Then in verse 2, the Psalmist is speaking of himself:

2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”

Then in verses 3-13, he is speaking to the reader--"you"
You will be delivered, you will be covered, you will find refuge, you will be guarded by His angels, you need not fear. . .

And finally, in verses 14-16, God speaks in response:

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.”

God is declaring His faithfulness to all generations. He promises to deliver, protect and answer those who hold fast to Him. He will rescue him, and honor him, and satisfy him and show him His salvation--a reiteration of the previous verses.

Dr. VanGemeren explained what it meant to an Israelite to abide in the shadow. Deep, cooling shadows were not that common in Israel. The climate is HOT and dry and it is hard to find a refuge from the scorching heat. And when one could find a place to rest in the shadow, oh! it was so wonderful! So the picture of abiding in the shadow of the Almighty carries with it more than simply the idea of the sun casting a shadow. It carries with it the idea that one is covered by God Himself, protected, sheltered, cooled and refreshed. Take a minute here to look at the many ways that this concept is presented visually in this Psalm!

I have the kind of brain that automatically outlines what I hear and what I read. I don't know why or how, but I just do. But putting the thoughts into an organized whole is not the same as getting to the meaning of the message. And Dr. VanGemeren helped me to get the meaning of the text through what was, for me, a startling statement. This statement has stayed with me all this day. I think it will stay with me all my life.

He said that our theology must inform our imaginations, our vision, the way we see everything. We see our circumstances, in fact everything through our imaginations and so it is necessary to have our imaginations informed by our theology. The image, the vision, the view we have of this life is marred because of the fall. In one sense, we are living in a state of alienation from God because we are living in a world that tells us falsehoods, that paints images that are not real. And so to really understand the truth about this world, about ourselves, about our sin, and about our salvation in Christ must be "imagined" through our knowledge of God and His Word or they will be "vain imaginations." (Romans 1:21) He challenged us to "use our theology in order to use our imaginations rightly."

What a challenge for the new year--to hold fast to God in love, to dwell in the shelter of the Most High, to abide in the shadow of the Almighty. . .to imagine theologically.

Imagine that. . .

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