The following are Pastor Kevin’s preaching notes. They are neither a transcript nor a professionally edited document. They are provided for personal and devotional use and should not be distributed without permission.

Greeting

Good morning, my name is Kevin Labby, and I’m the Senior Pastor at Willow Creek Presbyterian Church. I’d like to welcome all of our guests here today! And I also want to welcome everyone watching this online either live or throughout the week. We know that most people will check us out online before they ever visit. We really look forward to seeing you soon.

Scripture Reading

Please open in your Bibles to our reading today, Psalm 121. This is the Word of God:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

8 The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

- Psalm 121 (ESV)

This ends the reading of God’s Word.

Prayer for Illumination

Let’s pray.

Father, by the power of your Spirit, please open your Word to us this morning that we might see Jesus. Please encourage, equip, and entrust us with your truth for your glory and the good of others. We ask it in the precious Name of Jesus. Amen.

Introduction

It’s not rare that, during the week, someone will enter our church doors in search of help. Maybe it’s a personal or family crisis, one requiring emergency counseling from one of our pastors or a trained and licensed counselor at Redeemer Christian Counseling. Maybe it’s a tangible need - a ride to the doctor, the repair of a leaky roof, some assistance to keep the lights on, or something else. Our deacons and members, along with partners like Christian HELP and the Sharing Center, help meet these needs. Maybe it’s a need for a simple time of prayer and consolation in the wake of tragedy.

The circumstances vary, but we all need help from time to time. And, sooner or later, we all wonder from where that help will come.

Who will help us? (v. 1)

As we mentioned last Sunday, the Psalms of Ascent (the second of which we we find here in Psalm 121) are sometimes called “Pilgrim Songs” because they were sung by pilgrims traveling (and ascending uphill) to the elevated city of Jerusalem for three annual Jewish festivals. Depending on the distance and point of origin, these travels could be perilous. Bandits, wild animals, mishaps and more threatened vulnerable travelers. It’s perhaps for this reason that the psalmist openly ponders about his source of help in times of affliction here in verse 1. Looking to the hills, often high places of idol worship, he asks:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.

From where does my help come?

His question applies to every kind of journey, not just those of geography. It applies to the more figurative journeys of everyday life - things like our growth from childhood to maturity, journeying through the various seasons of marriage, our climb up the corporate ladder, and our spiritual pilgrimages toward the fullness of the Kingdom of God. Who will guide us along the way? Who will encourage us? Who will protect us? Who will guarantee safe, even prosperous, passage? Will we look to the Lord or to false gods like those celebrated in the high and lofty places of the ancient near east?

If you’ve come to worship this morning in need of help, I have good news for you. God is ready, willing, and able to help you. He’s here. We’re here. You’re not alone.

If you’ve come not so much in need of help, but perhaps equipped by God to offer it, know this: God is not only ready, willing, and able to help others. He’s chosen to do some of that through you. You might be his chosen and healing instrument in someone’s life this week.

The Source of Our Help (v. 2-4)

In verses 2-4, the psalmist begins to answer his own rhetorical question. The Lord is the source of his help. We read:

2 My help comes from the Lord,

who made heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot be moved;

he who keeps you will not slumber.

4 Behold, he who keeps Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

The psalmist does not see the hills, or the idols worshipped on those hills, as the source of his help. He looks beyond them, higher. His hope is in the Lord. We find an echo of this conviction in the prophet Jeremiah. He warned against idolatry in the high places and possessed a similar confidence in the Lord (3:23):

Surely the idolatrous commotion on the hills

and mountains is a deception;

surely in the Lord our God

is the salvation of Israel.

Why is the Lord the psalmist’s ultimate source of help? He confesses two principal reasons: the Lord is our designer and defender.

Designer

The psalmist looks beyond the hills to their infinitely greater designer. He is the creator of these and so much more, even heaven and earth! The Apostle Paul attests to the same, saying that everything in creation was made by him and for him. Listen to his words to the Christians at Colossae (1:16-17):

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

Here, Paul says three things of every single aspect of creation: 1.) God is its source (he created it), 2.) God is its sustainer (in him all things hold together), and 3.) God provides its ultimate significance (it exists by him, for him). God’s designed everything in creation this way - listen: even those things that seem to threaten us. We’ll come back to that truth in a few minutes.

Defender

However, it’s not only that God has creative power; he is full of compassionate care. He uses his power for the good of his people. He is their all-powerful, ever-watchful defender.

In verse 3, we’re introduced to the first threat against which the Lord protects us: our own failings. We read that he will not let our foot be moved, an idiomatic way of saying that he will not let us stumble or fall into spiritual peril (1). The four instances in which the Old Testament employs this Hebrew word do so figuratively, describing one’s fall into God’s judgment (Deut. 32:35), sin (Ps. 38:16); and enemy oppression (66:9; 94:18) (2). In other words, for the preservation of our soul and our perseverance in faith, God stands watchful guard. Emphatically, three times in fact, the psalmist reassures us that the God of Israel - that is, the covenant people of God - does not slumber or sleep.

Some time ago, I worked as a security guard at an apartment complex. I was entirely, entirely too zealous for the position. I caffeinated myself like it was my job to fly a stealth bomber from the United States to Iran every night. I rode my bike around the complex from 11PM to 7AM like Lance Armstrong. That apartment complex was never safer. If I heard a rustle, I investigated. If I saw something suspicious, I took cover and monitored. If I so much as smelled trouble, I called the police. I was on a first name basis with the dispatchers. Not really. BUt I’m sure it was close.

Even so, no matter how zealous and over-the-top I was, I never once came close to God’s zealous watch over his people. The psalmist describes a Watcher for whom nothing escapes notice. Nothing diverts his gaze. He doesn’t slumber. He doesn’t sleep. When it comes to you, your Father in Heaven doesn’t even blink.

The Strength of Our Help (v. 5-6)

Let’s continue noting the strength of our help in verses 5-6:

5 The Lord is your keeper;

the Lord is your shade on your right hand.

6 The sun shall not strike you by day,

nor the moon by night.

Here, the language is metaphorical and representative of two principal truths.

Presence

Although God is high and lifted up, far beyond even the highest hills of earth and the most distant stars of heaven, the psalmist celebrates his constant and immediate presence. In his inspired words, God is as near as your right hand. Yes, God is transcendent, but he is also immanent. He’s involved. He’s invested. He will never leave, nor forsake (cf. Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5; Heb. 13:5-6). That’s the first truth.

Protection

However, it’s at this point that the psalmist introduces the second threat against which the Lord protects us: not only our own failings, but also natural forces. God, he goes on to say, is like shade from the scorching heat of the sun. In fact, neither the sun nor moon can “strike” - that is, afflict - the child of God according to the psalmist.

You might be wondering, “When does the moon ever strike anyone?” While some suggest that the ancients feared the effects of too much moonlight (after all, lunacy is a mental affliction with reference to lunar forces), it seems more likely that the sun and moon are representative of all natural forces. Whether threatened by day or by night, God is our protector. He never punches out. He’s never “off the clock.”

The Security of Our Help (v. 7-8)

We continue by looking briefly at the final two verses of this reassuring psalm:

7 The Lord will keep you from all evil;

he will keep your life.

8 The Lord will keep

your going out and your coming in

from this time forth and forevermore.

Our psalm last week (Psalm 120) spoke of God’s protection from foes. This morning’s psalm shows us his help amidst our failings and even natural forces. Here, in these final two verses, he pledges protecting against evil in all of its forms. Further, he will keep us from all evil forever. The promise of God is irrevocable.

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room, so to speak. The psalmist mades great boasts of God here in Psalm 121, but let’s acknowledge a few things:

  • We all stumble in many ways. We all fail.

  • We all feel the effects of natural forces. Metaphorically, the sun and moon strike.

  • We all know the harm of foes.

  • We all see and experience evil.

How can the psalmist say that God will keep us from these things when they’re all around us? It seems a little out of touch, doesn’t it?

This brings us back to what we said earlier of the psalmist’s pledge that God will not allow our feet to slip, that it is figurative language describing God’s watchful care over the souls of his people. It is a promise of ultimate immunity to and triumph over the sin and evil that would otherwise cause us lasting harm. It doesn’t mean that we won’t experience evil per se, but that evil will not - indeed cannot - ultimately prosper against us. God will protect us that we might persevere. Our pilgrimage will succeed. He will deliver us safely into the fullness of his Kingdom and presence. No weapon or weakness will keep us from the coming shalom.

Three Principles

As we close this morning, let me share three principles with you - three ways to live in view of these powerful promises of God.

#1 . You’re free to let facts inform your feelings.

There is an apparent tension in this passage between its revelation and our reality. We have foes. We have failings. We’re threatened by forces greater than us. Every form of evil fills our world. It’s natural to ask where is God in all of this darkness?

Back when I lived in Pennsylvania, I loved to go deer hunting. One of my friends invited me to hunt on a big farm. We’d travel to the hunting camp the day before; survey the property; set up our deer stands; and then spend a quiet night in our cabin before heading into the woods very, very early in the morning.

I knew my way to my tree stand. I could walk it blindfolded and that was good because it was usually cloudy and pitch dark. Since it was late November, the air was cold. Sometimes it was windy. You’d hear disturbing sounds, wondering if anyone - or anything - else was near. It was natural to feel a little unsettled, maybe even tempting to feel a little freaked.

Eventually, I’d get to my tree stand. I’d climb up and wait. Eventually, an hour or so later, the light of the sun would crack the horizon. Darkness gave way to shadows. Shadows then gave way to light. Soon, I could see all things as they truly were all along.

The promise of the psalmist is that there is a light beyond all the darkness. We can’t always see it, and it’s therefore tempting to feel unsettled - maybe even a little freaked - as we sit in it.

When the darkness of foes or failings or forces settles in around you, let the fact of God’s love inform your feelings. Day or night, he is at your right hand. No matter how dark, there is light on the horizon. Soon, you’ll see things as they truly are - and as they were all along.

#2. You’re free to trust that God has a provision for every problem.

A second principle of this psalm is that God has a provision for every problem. There is simply no foe, failing, force, or form of evil for which your Father has not made provision. Evil simply cannot prevail against you.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t face difficulties of many kinds. What it does mean is that there is a provision for every problem and that you never face these problems alone. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul spoke of this. He said that God will always provide a way out of temptations so that we can stand up under them (1 Cor. 10:13).

Further, God will never leave you alone. He will accomplish his purpose in life’s challenges and through them; you will prevail over them, in him. Consider these words of the Apostle Paul (Rom. 8:18, 37-39).

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…..37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There is a provision for every problem, provisions that equip us to persevere and ultimately prevail in Christ.

#3. You’re free to be strong and courageous.

I imagine that the words of this psalm were comforting to more than a few weary pilgrims to Jerusalem. They should be comforting to you as well in all of your journeys. You don’t need to live in fear. You’re free to live by faith.

Jesus: Our Source, Strength, and Security

Maybe today is day to start a new journey. In fear, you’ve put it off for some time. Maybe it’s the journey toward a new and better marriage. Maybe it’s the journey toward a restored relationship with a family member or former friend. Maybe it’s the journey toward financial freedom. Maybe it’s the journey toward freedom from addiction. Whatever it is, know this: God goes with you.

Jesus is your source, your strength, and your security - now and forevermore.

Let’s pray.

SOURCES

(1) Robert G. Bratcher and William David Reyburn, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Psalms, UBS Handbook Series (New York: United Bible Societies, 1991), 1053.

(2) https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/psalm-121-what-it-means-that-yahweh-is-your-guardian

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

SermonsKevin Labby