An ancient psalm intersects with the realities of life…


Psalm 121:

1      I lift up my eyes to the hills— 
from where will 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      He who keeps Israel 
will neither slumber nor sleep. 

5      The LORD is your keeper; 
the LORD is your shade at 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 on and forevermore.

I’ve been wrestling with this psalm this morning. They are words of comfort for an ancient Jewish community living under the covenant of the law given by Moses. It’s known as one of the “psalms of ascent” which we believe were psalms sung as God’s people walked up the steps of the temple in Jerusalem to assemble for worship. Today we might refer to it as a “call to worship” or a “gathering hymn”.

Among the covenant promises of God expressed in the psalm was the promise of protection for Israel which is named here, particularly in v.7-8. Without God’s protection, the relatively small nation would have been overrun long before this psalm was written. However, God fought on Israel’s behalf and preserved them – even prospered them.

However, we modern Christians are not living under the covenant of the law given by Moses. In the words of institution I speak over the chalice of wine each week, I am reminded of the words of Jesus, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin.” Our covenant with God through Jesus, the Christian covenant, does not make the same promises as the first covenant of the law. As Christians we are no longer promised protection from bodily harm as evidenced by the fact that Jesus himself, many of his disciples, the apostle Paul, and other Christian leaders in the New Testament suffered beatings, flogging, even death at the hands of their enemies.

The primary promise of our new covenant in Jesus is not protection from mortal dangers, but forgiveness of sins and eternal life as children of God.

Acts 5:40 and when (the high priest and other leaders) had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42 And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

In the minds of the early Christians, suffering wasn’t something to be avoided, but to be embraced. Flogging (lashing with a whip) was not a punishment for infidelity to God as was understood with the first covenant. Rather, it was a badge of honor and a sign of faithfulness to the way of Jesus.

I’m particularly mindful of this today as I continue to pray for my brother Chris, who remains in ICU after his cardiac arrest. This psalm, and others like it, are offered up by many wonderfully faithful friends and family members – along with prayers for Chris’ healing. I am so very grateful. Yet, it’s important for me to remember the nature of the promise of God for Chris, for me, for you, for all Christians. Healing in Jesus’ name certainly occurred in ancient times and continues to this day, I have no doubt. However, protection from bodily harm is no longer at the core of our covenant with God.

Heavenly Father, in Jesus’ name, I call out to you. If it be your will to do so, bring healing to my brother Chris. And if not, accept him as your beloved son redeemed by the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Amen.

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