Of all the Psalms, the ninety-first Psalm is the most comforting. It promises divine protection and deliverance no matter what befalls us. No matter how or when Satan tries to attack and destroy, God is our Refuge and our Fortress who keeps us safe. We can trust in Him completely because He is always watchful and always guarding us from sin and the devil.
This Psalm, at least a few verses of it, should sound familiar from Sunday. We heard verses eleven and twelve in the Gospel as we heard of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Only there, they were not quoted by Jesus to attempt to silence the devil, but they were used by the devil to attempt to get Jesus to test God, to see if He really meant what He said in this Psalm. This is what the devil does. He twists and turns Scripture to take something that is a promise and turns it into a test. Did God really say?
Did God really say He will send His angels to keep you from injury? He must be a liar. You got cancer. You broke your arm. You have depression and anxiety. He doesn’t sound like a God who keeps His word to me. You look pretty injured, physically and emotionally. God didn’t keep His promise. Did God really say no evil shall befall you, that you shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, that your enemies will drop dead all around you? God must have meant that for that guy over there, but certainly not for you. Look at how miserable you are!
The devil’s trick is to get us to be nearsighted. He doesn’t want us to look back in our past. Because what we see when we look at the past is a history of divine protection. The Lord has brought us through countless crosses. He has preserved us through many dangers, toils, and snares. He brought us out of situations we never thought we’d see end. But as much as the devil doesn’t want us to look back, he certainly doesn’t want us to look forward. Because what do we see as we look ahead, especially with the eyes of faith? We see the fulfillment of all God’s promises. We see eternal life, our souls kept in safety under heaven’s altar, our bodies raised incorruptible. We see Satan thrown into the lake of fire, silenced and defeated for eternity. If we look too far back or too far forward, we have courage because we see every promise of the ninety-first Psalm fulfilled.
When Satan limits our vision and sets us on the path of hopeless navel-gazing, seeing everything that we think is wrong in our life, when we sound like Elijah asking God to take our live, that is when we have to exercise the promise given us in this Psalm. The Psalmist tells us: “You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra, the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.” Who is the roaring lion who seeks to devour us? Who is the serpent that hisses lies into our ears? The Psalmist, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, promises us that we will tread upon, that is, subdue the lion, and trample, crush to death the serpent. We will destroy and silence the devil.
We do that when we exercise the rights given to us at our Baptism, to pray to God that He would spare us from temptation and the evil one. When Satan’s darkness and lies threaten to gain the upper hand, it is then that we pray for deliverance. So, it’s not really that we do anything to the devil, but rather we call on Jesus to do again what He did on the cross. We ask Him to crush the serpent’s head for us. And He does. He gladly delivers us from temptation and from the evil one. He reminds the devil that he is defeated, that his power and scope are severely limited, and the Last Day is coming soon when he will be in agony for all eternity, silenced forever. By Jesus’ cross He caused all the forces of evil to fall at our side and at our right hand. We with our eyes get to look and see the reward of the wicked.
In the Means of Grace we are given the best protection ever. In the Word, Baptism, and the Supper we are given the Holy Spirit, who gives us Jesus Christ. The Spirit guard and keeps us. He covers us with His wings and protects us from every arrow of the wicked one. He gives us the holy angels to protect us, to do battle against Satan’s forces of wickedness. He gives us Jesus’ perfect obedience, fulfillment of the Law, and crushing defeat of Satan. He gives us forgiveness, life, and salvation.
Because God has set His love upon you, He will deliver you, He will set you on high. You will call upon Him and He will answer you. He will be with you in trouble. He will deliver you and honor you, giving you His salvation. No matter how or when Satan tries to attack and destroy, God is our Refuge and our Fortress who keeps us safe. We can trust in Him completely because He is always watchful and always guarding us from sin and the devil.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.