Psalms 121 –
1 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.
Before we start I want to first thank the elders, Matt, Kyle and Dave for giving me the chance to preach this morning. I have been able to preach and speak as a guest before, but never at my home church. It is so sweet to do it here at Grace, it means a lot, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to preach this morning. If we are to understand this text, it will require the help of the Holy Spirit. I am a very imperfect vessel, so let’s pray.
[Prayer] Heavenly Father, you are living and actively involved in your creation. Your word speaks to us through your Spirit. Please help us to hear and understand it. May we see the glory in this text and meet Jesus Christ in it. Please help me say what you want said and get out of the way. Help us to apply your word to our hearts that the Holy Spirit would change us. Amen
Kids, How many of you went to the State Fair this year? Can you remember the excitement you had the morning before you left? You knew everyone in the State would be coming and gathering at the same place as you. You were going to the most important event of the year. In a way it feels like the center of the world is at the state fair for those two weeks. In any case you were probably looking ahead and imagining what it would be like this year.
Now I want you to imagine, instead of driving 40 minutes or so, how you would feel if you had to hike about 14 hours to the State Fair. Except there are no paved paths. There are forests filled with bears and wild dogs, even lions. And there are robbers and dangerous enemies along the way. Oh yeah, the State Fairgrounds are also at the top of a rocky, dusty, steep mountain. Are you still excited? Would you be willing to even try to go?
In the text we are going to look at, the people of Israel faced this very situation. Several times a year they would head to center of their world: Jerusalem. Despite all kinds of dangers they headed to the city that was the center of their world for something much greater than a deep-fried stomach ache on a stick: They gathered with God’s people to meet with God at the temple.
Every member of Israel would gather in Jerusalem, a city seated on a mountain top. As people converged near the city, they would ascend to Jerusalem. It was a treacherous journey filled with thieves,warring enemies, dangerous animals and rough terrain. The people of Israel would make this journey to celebrate the different feasts: passover, the feast of tabernacles and the day of atonement.
That is what the Songs of Ascent are all about. Psalms 120-134 are a collection of songs that describe this journey. They would sing these on the way, to remind themselves of the Lord and why they were going. And when they arrived they would praise the Lord and receive blessing.
While we may not actually travel like the Israelites did, we are on a journey, and there is an end to this journey. We are heading to our true home where we will someday dwell forever in the Lord’s presence in the New Jerusalem.
This world is filled with trouble because sin has broken everything. There are plenty of times when our sin directly brings trouble upon us. But other times it is simply the reality of living in a fallen world. Sin has tainted everything we experience this side of heaven The dangers an Israelite faced on the way to Jerusalem were not a direct result of sin, but only the reality of their world.
When a pilgrim set out on his journey to Jerusalem, he would have known the dangers ahead. When you consider your situation, what season are you currently in, or getting ready to embark on that causes you anxiety? Maybe it’s anticipating a new child, a job change, financial or relational strains. Maybe you are experiencing health issues or a body that is failing you. The list could go on forever, but we all have at least one situation that causes worry and anxiety. Write it down if you can.
When living in a fallen world brings trouble and worry to our lives, where do we look for help? Psalm 121 offers help in the form of the LORD as our Keeper.
As we look at this text, the structure of this Psalm is a sort of Catechism. It poses a question in verse 1, the answer in verse 2 and then provides 3 reasons why the answer is so satisfying. So let’s look at the question:
V1. The Question: I lift my eyes to the hills, From where does my help come?
Beyond the physical rigors of the journey to Jerusalem, there were spiritual dangers as well. The hills represent the high places. They were too often filled with idols, asherah poles and shrines. For the majority of Israel’s history, the pilgrims making the trek to Jerusalem would have seen the idols and probably the effects of idolatry within the city. There were idols that assured help for protection and prosperity and a litany of other false hopes and assurances.
When we look out at our world there is an endless number of things promising help for our troubles. We may not seek help in the form of statues or wooden poles, but we are still inundated with idols in our world. For some it’s information:
- If I teach my kids all of the right things, they will be kept from disaster as adults.
- If I learn enough about the diagnosis we just received, my troubles about the health of my loved one will go away.
Others it’s the promise of financial security: If I simply find a way to cover my expenses or add a little cushion to our accounts, then our troubles will be solved.
Is it distraction? How many of us seek to escape trouble by simply immersing yourself in something else?
Maybe some of you seek help in activity. The lie that if we just work harder and cross more things off our To-Do lists, respite will surely come.
For others it’s worry itself. If I spend enough time worrying that will prove that I am combating my troubles.
If you are like me it is probably a combination of all of them. Again, the troubles we face in life are not always a direct result of our sin, but how we respond to trouble often reveals the idols of our hearts.
Where are you seeking help from your trouble Grace?
The Answer v2. My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth
With all of the helps offered in the hills, the Psalmist ultimately finds help from the LORD. The maker of heaven and earth. God, with his word spoke things into existence. There is nothing in this world that God did not make and nothing beyond God’s control. If there was something greater than the Creator, then he wouldn’t be God and we should worship whatever that higher thing is. But nothing is above our God. That’s another way of saying our Creator God is sovereign.
One of the keys to remember in this passage is the distinction between Creator (God) and Created beings (us and everything else). When we look to the hills for help, if we are not looking for God’s help, we are looking to something created for help. And Creation is limited. It will fail.
Our problems are creature problems. If the LORD, our help in times of trouble, is the creator, then he is actually powerful enough to do something about our problems. There is nothing beyond God’s grasp.
The LORD is the creator of the universe. His sovereignty cannot be questioned. But this Psalm goes further. The Lord is also intimately involved in all of the details of His world. He did not create and then step back. He didn’t wind up a clock, let it run and dusted off his hands with no care for the consequences. Our Sovereign Creator is also active and near.
Back to the State Fair for a second. What if I told you that you would make this dangerous journey filled with trouble and challenges, but you went with an Army Ranger, a Navy Seal or a Marines special Forces soldier? Someone big, tough, highly trained, and skilled who knew the way and could protect you from danger? That is what the people of Israel knew, and that’s what Psalm 121 tells us. The Sovereign Lord is your tireless keeper.
To understand the rest of this passage, we have to look at the word Keeper. It’s used six times in the final six verses and it explains why our Sovereign God is such a good source of help.. What does the word mean? In this context it means to watch or preserve. The idea of a bodyguard, someone tasked with guarding a precious cargo or person on a mission. Elsewhere in scripture it is connected to shepherds, another group of people committed to risking all danger for the sake of their flocks.
There are plenty of stories or movies that portray a person or many people tasked with guarding someone or something. Think about the Lord of the Rings or Saving Private Ryan. A group of people are assigned to do whatever it takes to ensure the safe arrival of the what they are guarding, whether it is a special ring or a solider that needs to return to America safely. Whatever the treasure that requires guarding, everyone else on the team is tasked with protecting the cargo at all costs.
The remaining verses describe what kind of keeper the LORD is. He protects, provides and preserves his people. Look at verse 3 to see this first point.
V. 3-4 Know that the Lord is your protector
To an Israelite making this journey up a mountain, keeping one’s footing would have been critical. A false step could result in a serious or even deadly fall. Whatever danger a person would face on this journey, the Psalmist is aware that the LORD is near. There is both physical protection, but also spiritual protection. On our journey through life, we may stumble in sin, but we can not ultimately fall away from God. We will see this more clearly in verse 7.
Notice also God’s relationship to his people. Our God is both personal and communal. He cares about each individual, but we also belong to the people of God. God protects his people both when they are gathered and when they are scattered and return to their homes.
Another aspect of his protection is that Our Keeper does not slumber or sleep. A good bodyguard will stay up all night in order to keep watch for, and deal with any dangers lurking. Our God does not need sleep, but we are creatures. We tire, we are limited in our capabilities. When we face trouble, the temptation is to take matters into our own hands.
Elijah’s God compared to the Baals
I Kings 18:26-29. “And they took the bull that was given them, and they prepared it and called upon the name of Baal from morning until noon, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped around the altar that they had made. 27 And at noon Elijah mocked them, saying, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened.” 28 And they cried aloud and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. 29 And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice. No one answered; no one paid attention.”
The servants of Baal tried everything to get BAal’s attention. It sounds ridiculous to us, but we are guilty of the same things. We stay awake at night trying to rouse help. We pour ourselves into work or house projects or even serving others in the hopes that our activity will produce help.
Meanwhile Elijah prayed and asked God to answer him. And the living God answered him. And he will answer us too. When we are troubled, pray to the Lord, your sleepless keeper for help. When we rest and sleep we are acknowledging by faith that Christ will do what we cannot. Even if sleep is slow in coming, know that the Lord is awake with you.
Our God does not change, tire or need refreshing of any kind. What about Jesus didn’t he tire? When Jesus was on earth, he was fully man and therefore had human limits. He knows what it’s like to get tired and exhausted. But now he’s glorified. Hebrews says he always lives to make intercession. He is our advocate with the Father, never tiring, never sleeping in order to pray on our behalf. He presents his people to his Father and knows exactly how to protect us.
v. 5-6 Know that the Lord will provide for you
If there was any doubt who the keeper of Israel was in verse 4, the Psalmist makes it clear: the Lord is your keeper.
On a journey, the intense heat of the day was followed by the cold of the night. Shade by day would be a means of comfort.
The people who fled Egypt experienced this. God led them during the day by a cloud and a pillar of fire at night. God provided shade from the desert heat, and warmth from the bone-chilling nights. In the desert wanderings, God provided for Israel in other ways too: bread rained from the sky, water poured from rocks, and their clothes and sandals never wore out, even after 40 years of wandering.
Or maybe you are familiar with the story of Jonah. After he got out of the belly of the great fish, preached to the Ninevites, he sulked. And yet God provided protection for him in the form of a shady plant. Even when our attitudes and hearts are rotten like Jonah’s, God still provides. Do not fall into thinking that the only way God will provide or keep us is that we must first clean up ourselves. We all come to our Keeper in the same state as Jonah.
Our Keeper provided for Israel and the same is true for us. Sit down and write a list of all of the ways God has provided for you in the last week. The list should pile up quickly. As you gather evidence, the scale will tip overwhelmingly towards the truth that God provides. God has even provided a gift to Grace church in the form of the faithful saints who have followed the Lord for 20, 30 and 40 years. Find one of these beloved saints and ask them about God’s provision. Let them tell stories of how God has been faithful to keep them.God as Keeper has provided and will continue to provide. And if you are one of those blessed saints who have walked with Jesus for decades, be willing to tell your stories of God’s provision. We need one another to rightly seek help from our keeper.
Further, consider all of the ways the Lord provided salvation at various times for his people. The Lord preserved Noah and his family through an ark. A ram rustled in the bushes right on time for Abraham and Isaac. God gave the passover lamb in place of the firstborn. He delivered his people through leaders like Moses and Joshua and later through kings and the priests and prophets.
And ultimately and finally, Christ came to earth in order to become the atoning sacrifice for sin for all of God’s people. God has already provided the remedy for our idolatry.
V6. Sun and moon
Night and Day the Lord provides for us.
your protector and provider covers you 24-7.
What do you need? Ask your heavenly Father. Further, when you are in times of trouble and prone to seek help in the wrong places, remind yourself of truth. Be in the Word, sing of God’s provision. Memorize scripture that tells of his mighty works.
The final point moves us to a future promise.
V. 7-8 Believe that the Lord will Preserve you forever
Notice the word keep now shows up as a future idea: the Lord will keep you.
When we are only focused on our immediate troubles, we might begin to believe that God is not near or that he is allowing evil to harm us. Sometimes this promise can also be misunderstood that trusting in Christ will remove all suffering or hardship in our lives right now.
There are times when the troubles of this fallen world seem overwhelming, but don’t think for a second that God is not intimately and actively working on our behalf as Keeper. As Pastor Dave has shown us through all of First Peter, we will suffer and face hardship this side of heaven. But Psalm 121 highlights a key theme in Scripture: Our God is upholding all things and protecting his people from evil.
When this happens we need to zoom out and take a look at the larger story at play. Whatever trouble we have is ultimately temporary. We know where our final destination lies and we know how it will end.
In the new New testament, the word guard has the same meaning as keeper. Jesus guarded his disciples from evil during his time on earth and prayed that we would be guarded as well. Second Thessalonians 3 verse 3 promises the same thing for us: The Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.” Jesus is sovereign over evil. When he died on the cross and rose from the grave he triumphed victoriously over the powers of evil. Evil can not ultimately defeat us. It can deceive and discourage us, but the absolute worst that evil can do is take our physical life. But it can not ultimately harm our souls. If we die, we reunite with Christ in heaven. That’s the worst Satan and the powers of evil can do, and it will still result in a glory for God’s people.
Verse 8 says the Lord will keep your going out and your coming in.
This means God is our keeper all of the time. The normal routines of our lives: taking the kids to soccer practice, meeting your friend for coffee, coping wood, the routine checkup, folding laundry or creating a spreadsheet at a boring job.
If you are still having trouble seeing how involved in his creation God is, Another detail I want you to notice is how this Psalm increases in the level of God’s intimacy. Verse 2 describes a Creator. Verse 3 God is our personal keeper. By verse 5 he is our shade on our right hands. Kids, have you ever tried to escape your shadow? It’s hard because it’s so close to you it’s attached to you. That’s how close the Lord is to his people. The Lord is increasingly near! Now verse 7 and 8 show a God who is involved in all details-even the mundane- of life.
Not only is the Lord our Keeper in all of our daily actions, but he has promised to keep us forever. Verse 8 sounds a very similar to what we see in the new testament. Listen to Philippians 1:6 where Paul says, “and I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.
Just as elite soldiers or bodyguards must be willing to sacrifice for the sake of the mission, God’s mission from the very beginning of time was to dwell with his people forever. Despite continued rebellion and failure to keep up our end of the bargain, our Keeper remained faithful. Jesus came to earth to rescue all of God’s people from sin and death and to restore us to right relationship. He would have made this journey many times. But his final ascent to Jerusalem was the most important. He came to Jerusalem to observe Passover. And we see in John 17 Jesus praying to his heavenly Father. The heavenly Father who actively kept Jesus during his incarnation. Jesus prays for the people of God and his disciples to be kept while they remained in the world.0
Then shortly after this prayer, Jesus was arrested, beaten and ultimately crucified for the sake of his people. This atoned for our sins and secures our status as righteous before God. And when his work was finished, he returned to the right hand of the Father where he continually makes intercession for us.
When he left, he didn’t leave us alone. He gave us his Spirit to be with us forever. What God the Father and Jesus the Son began, the Spirit will complete. Ephesians 1 says the Spirit is our deposit.
When we talk about God as our Keeper, there is a permanence. And the Bible uses many terms to get at this idea: We are adopted into God’s family. Our names are written in the book of life. We are called and justified, that is declared not guilty before God. Romans 8:29-30 says, “and those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” We have been predestined, called, and justified. And we will someday be glorified. Not if, but when. It is a certainty because it is God who will do the work of glorifying us when we finally meet Jesus face to face.
If you have placed your faith in Christ as your keeper, you can be assured that he will guard you and keep you until we finally ascend to him in the New Jerusalem. And all of the trouble from a fallen world will be restored.
If you are here this morning and don’t believe that the bible is true, know this: whether you realize it or not, whether you acknowledge it or not, the LORD has kept you until this very moment. You are alive and he has shown you mercy up until now. Do not presume on his mercy any longer. Give up trying to fight troubles on your own and turn to the Creator of Heaven and Earth for help.
Let the creator of the heavens and earth keep you. He will forgive your sins through Christ’s death and will keep your life forever.
Jesus said, In this world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world (John 16:33). Grace, whatever trouble you face, Your Keeper, Jesus Christ, has overcome it. The Sovereign Lord, creator of all things, is not only powerful enough to handle your troubles, he is your protector, he is your provider and he has promised to preserve you for all time. Remember these truths. There are ways you can fight to remember this when you are tempted to turn to idols, but the main thing is to remember the truth that Jesus is your keeper. If you are trusting in an idol for help. Stop. Repent and turn to the Sovereign creator for true help in times of trouble. And when you do you will not find more trouble, but Grace from your keeper.
We will make it through this world only because our Lord has promised to keep us and he is able. The troubles we face in this world are the result of sin. And Our Keeper dealt with sin when he died on the cross.