160214 Psalm 91

Last Updated on Sunday, 14 February 2016 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Psalm 91
Theme: The Wonder Of Wings

What would it be like to have wings? That was the question I posed to St. Matthew's kindergarten class last week. If you are familiar with the total honesty and wild imagination of the average five-year-old, you will probably be interested in hearing more about the answers I received.

The responses fell into two general categories. Some students thought that it would be kind of scary to have wings. Trying out a new pair of wings would be like riding a bike for the first time. You might lose your balance. You might not be able to go straight. You might even crash.

The rest of the class (including most of the boys) thought it would be fun to have wings, to be able to fly around wherever and whenever they wanted. One boy said that that he could use his wings to fly home after school. Another was more interested in speeding through the halls and crashing through a wall.

Maybe you don't have that kind of imagination. Maybe you have only dreamed about it. Or maybe you haven't thought about it at all. If you haven't, consider the possibility. What would it be like to have wings? Think of the added convenience. No more traffic jams. No more slipping on the ice. No need for elevators or escalators. And just think of the time you would save if you could fly from place to place.

In his wisdom, God has chosen not to equip human beings with wings. But just because none of us has feathery appendages protruding from our shoulder blades, that doesn't mean that wings are of no benefit to us. Our text for this morning, Psalm 91, mentions not one, but two examples of how wings help wingless creatures like us.

In the time we have together today, let's take a closer look at these two examples and consider what God's Word has to say about...

THE WONDER OF WINGS

I. The wings of God
II. The wings of God's messengers

If you are like me, you probably have a picture of what God looks like in your mind. And if your personal picture of God doesn't include wings, that's okay. God is a spirit. He doesn't have a physical body like we have. Because God is omnipresent, because he is in all places at all times, he doesn't really need wings anyway.

But sometimes the Bible describes God using human characteristics (like eyes or hands) or superhuman characteristics (like wings) to help our simple minds understand him better. When we come across one of these descriptions, we need to ask: What is the point? What is the point of comparison? What does this tell me about God?

In the case of Psalm 91, the answer is easy: "Surely he will save you from the fowler's snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with his feathers and under his wings you will find refuge" (3,4). God's wings are a place of refuge for the child of God, a place to be protected, a place to feel safe and secure.

This is God's promise. And this promise is wonderful news, but the promise reminds us of something else, something that is not so wonderful. If God sets himself up as our source of divine protection, there must also be a need for protection. God's promise assumes that the world is not a safe place.

This is how the psalmist describes the situation: "You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday" (5,6). War. Crime. Disease. Sounds a lot like the front page of today's paper. As common as these dangers are, they were not a part of God's original plan. They are the sad consequences of sin, the sin that Adam and Eve ushered into our world, the sin that makes our planet a dangerous place, the sin that clouds our thinking, the sin that separates people from God.

Sin has deadly consequences. Sin has eternal consequences, but not for the believer. Even though we are surrounded by perils and pitfalls, God gives us this assurance: "A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you. You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked" (7,8).

Like an eagle folding its wings over its young (Exodus 19:4), like a hen gathering her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23:37), God protects his own. He protects our bodies and souls. And he enlists the help of others to carry out this important task.

Parents are the primary providers for their children. They provide food and drink, clothing and shoes, house and home, love and attention. Fathers and mothers lay the spiritual foundation for the family. To assist them, God provides pastors and teachers who fortify faith with Word and sacrament. The Lord of the church is also the Lord of all, and he has established the government to foster the peace and stability of society.

The family. The church. The government. God has established all of these institutions for our good. God has established these institutions for our safety and security. We see them at work. We see them acting as God's representatives. And we can see the many blessings God gives us through them.

But we can't see everything. We have other allies in this world who are invisible to us. God created the angels to serve him, and He has enlisted the help of his heavenly messengers to watch over his people on earth.

"If you make the Most High your dwelling—even the Lord, who is my refuge—then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone" (9-12).

Do those words sound familiar? They should because they were quoted in the Gospel lesson for today (Luke 4:11). But those words didn't come from the lips of Jesus. The devil quoted Psalm 91 when he tempted Jesus to throw himself off the temple.

Even though the devil failed to bring Jesus down, we need to be aware that Satan is still up to his old tricks. The approach might be different, but the goal is the same. The devil twists the words of God into Satanic verses to destroy our faith. And just as he did with Jesus, he tempts us in three different ways.

"Angels? Who believes in angels anymore? How can you be that unsophisticated? How can you be so gullible? Everyone knows the stories in the Bible about angels are just that, stories. I suppose that you believe in ghosts too."

If that doesn't work, Satan will attack from a different angle. Instead of denying the existence of angels, he encourages people to equate their spirituality with a belief in these spirit beings. The next time you go to the bookstore try to count the number of volumes published on the subject. With so much attention being given to angels even in the secular world, it doesn't take the devil long to make people forget about the God who created them.

Satan knows that these first two temptations won't be the most effective on believers, on people who know their Bibles and trust God's promises. But the devil doesn't give up. He has one more trick up his sleeve. And his third and final temptation is the most dangerous of all because it does more than try to make us doubt the existence of angels. The devil's ultimate temptation is to make us doubt the power and love of God.

Satan says: "Why don't you read that passage back to me? Here, I'll read it for you: 'He will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in your hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone' (11,12). That sounds so good, but what about the Christians who are being persecuted in other parts of the world? How long will they have to suffer? How many of them will have to die before God's angels come to the rescue?"

"And what about you? What about all your problems? What about your marriage? What about your job situation? What about your last visit to the doctor? You Christians are fools. You say that you trust in God. Well, where is he? The way I see it, either he can't or won't help you."

Do those accusations sound familiar? Instead of an imaginary conversation with the devil, has Satan ever planted those very real thoughts in your mind? When problems mount, does your faith shrink? Do you ever doubt God's power? Or worse yet, do you ever doubt God's love?

Don't let the devil deceive you. Don't let him fill your head with his logical lies. Take refuge under the wings of God. Take comfort in the knowledge that God's winged messengers are on your side. Take to heart the example of Jesus when he was tempted.

Tell the devil: "I know that this world is not a perfect place. I know that you are lurking in the weeds. I know that you are tempting me to sin. I know that I give in way too easily. I know that I deserve to suffer eternally with you in hell."

"But I also know that my God is more powerful than you. I know that Jesus appeared on this earth to destroy your work. I know that Jesus crushed your head when he died on the cross. I know that Jesus declared his final victory when he rose from the dead. And I know that he has the power to make everything, even the challenges, even the disappointments, even the things I can't understand, work out for my eternal good."

"Because Jesus has done everything for me, there is no doubt in my mind that my all-powerful Savior loves me. He loved me enough to die for me. He loved me enough to take away my sins. He loved me enough to prepare a special place for me in heaven. And while I am waiting for him to return, he has left his angels to take care of me."

We can't see God's winged messengers, but by faith we know they are here. God's angels are on the playground, at the bedside, in the workplace. God's angels have prevented countless accidents. God's angels have stopped terrible disasters. God's angels shield us from dangers we don't sense. God's angels protect us from evils we can't see. God's holy angels serve God's people, and their service to God is its own reward.

You have probably heard the saying: "On a wing and a prayer." This morning let's turn those words around. Today let's offer up a prayer of thanksgiving for wings. We give thanks for the protecting wings of God. We give thanks for the wings of God's messengers. And we anticipate that glorious day when we will be flying high with them, when we will be with God and his holy angels in heaven. Amen.

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