A Mighty Fortress is Our God (PDF Sermon Text)
Scripture Text: Psalm 46
Last week, we read about how people are naturally not at peace. We are born into a world that is hostile to God. Humanity is at war with God, but thanks be to God, He makes peace with us. God is full of great mercy, grace and love for us, that He sent the great Peacemaker, Jesus Christ. Jesus has brought us into fellowship with God by His sacrificial death on the cross of Calvary. He has written the peace treaty between us and God with His own blood, and now whosoever comes to Him in faith is pardoned their sin, brought into a peaceful fellowship with God, and adopted into God’s family. But…what happens when others in the world threaten our peace? What peace is there when terrible things like what happened last week to a church that was meeting for worship? A gunman entered the sanctuary of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Sutherland Springs, Texas and opened fire on the people, killing twenty-six people – half were children – and wounding thirty others. Eight members of one family died. For the small community of Sutherland Springs, 4% of their population died Sunday at the hands of a mentally deranged gunman. The people are hurting and there is a lot of healing that needs to take place. In the midst of this tragedy, people are working together to minister to this church. But, the question many people are asking is this, “Why did it happen?” Where was God in this? What do we do now? God’s Word has much to say about this.
Luther’s Psalm of Comfort
Psalm 46 is one of those passages that speaks volumes in the midst of tragedy. One scholar, wrote, “Few psalms breathe the spirit of sturdy confidence in the Lord in the midst of very real dangers as strongly as does [Psalm 46].” One commentary called Psalm 46 “Martin Luther’s Psalm”. There were times during the dark and dangerous periods of the Reformation when Luther was terribly discouraged and depressed. But at such times, it is said that he would turn to a friend and say, “Come, let’s sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” Then they would sing it in Luther’s own version, which we know as “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther said, “We sing this psalm to the praise of God, because God is with us and powerfully and miraculously preserves and defends his church and his word against all fanatical spirits, against the gates of hell, against the implacable hatred of the devil, and against all the assaults of the world, the flesh and sin.” Psalm 46 gave Luther comfort in the midst of troublesome times.
It is believed that Psalm 46 was written in response to the Assyrian army’s attack on Jerusalem during the reign of King Hezekiah (2 Kings 18–19). The Assyrian field commander stood before the walls of Jerusalem and called on the people to surrender, boasting that none of the gods of the nations had been able to stand against the Assyrian armies. He then sent a letter to King Hezekiah, boasting of the same thing. When Hezekiah received it he went into the Temple and spread it before the Lord and prayed. God answered him through the great prophet Isaiah, who said that God would defend the city and that King Sennacherib would return to Nineveh and perish there. That night God sent an angel through the camp of the Assyrians, killing 185,000 soldiers. When the Jewish people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So, Sennacherib broke camp, withdrew and returned to Nineveh. God had delivered His people. That is what many believe is the background to this psalm.
God is Our Refuge
People turn to all sorts of things to shield themselves from the troubles of this world. Some people think they will be secure if they have enough money, property, or a large retirement account. Those who lay up treasures on earth and rely on them for security, the Bible calls fools. Money cannot protect us against heartbreak, failure, sin, disease, or disaster in this world. Other people rely upon themselves, their education, their talents, or their skills to keep them secure in this world. But even the best educated and highly skilled people suffer disaster or misfortune in this world. And some people rely upon others, such as their families, friends or connections, to get them through tough times. All of these “support systems” are uncertain and unstable. But, there is a sure support for us, a Person we can go for safety, who is always available to help.
Psalm 46:1–3 1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
The emphasis in this psalm is on God Himself. He is our refuge. Think of a protective shelter, like a place you would go for safety from a terrible storm. God is that shelter that protects you from the storms of life. But, later in the psalm, the psalmist declared that God is also a fortress. A fortress describes something strong. Cities would have fortifications to protect them from armies that wanted to attack them. God is the fortress. He is more than a strong shelter from bad weather, but a fortress to protect you from the great enemy, Satan, who prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom to destroy (1 Peter 5:8). Our strength to face the dark forces is God Himself. He is ready to help us in times of need. The point is that God alone is our refuge. Nothing in the universe can compare to Him – not wealth, not status, not relationships, nor any other thing. God alone is our refuge and strength.
Therefore…because God is a refuge and strength for His people, they are secure, even when the rest of the world is in trouble. God is our help even if the worst imaginable calamities should come upon us. This is what verses two and three describe, where the psalmist imagines chaos, in which the “earth gives way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” Sometimes life feels like that. The foundations of our established world are shaken, and chaos seems to have come again. Perhaps that is what it is like when the nations rage and kingdoms totter (v. 6). Perhaps that is what it is like when our lives are disrupted by the chaos of mass murder and the attack on innocent people, worshipping God on an otherwise peaceful Sunday morning. What do we say when our world is shaken like that? We could say that though the mountains be moved, our God and His people shall not be moved! We say that we will not fear, because our God is a Great God, our refuge and strength, and there is no other like Him!
God is With Us
When people are going through a difficult time, what is something they desire? They probably want to know that things are going to be OK. That want to know that whatever is happening in that moment will get better. They may also want to know that someone is there with them, that they are not alone in the struggle they are experiencing. In addition to the break of three parts in Psalm 46 by the word Selah, the second and third stanzas end with the refrain, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” The psalmist reminds us again and again that God is our fortress, even in the worst calamities. He also points out that God is with us. We are not alone when the earth gives way and the mountains fall into the sea (v. 2). Look at the following verses.
Psalm 46:4–7 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
The city of God mentioned in these verses is the earthly city of Jerusalem. In times of danger those who lived in Jerusalem were secure, because God was in their midst. He was with them. The “river” may be the stream of Siloam, the only natural supply of fresh water in Jerusalem. The “holy habitation”, or dwelling place, is the Temple. It is the place of God’s sanctuary, where His people meet Him in worship (v. 4). Thus, in contrast to the chaos mentioned in verses two and three and the raging nations in verse six, we have a picture of perfect peace and safety within the city of God. In contrast to the roaring seas, the streams of this river make glad the city of God. The reason that the city of God and His people are not moved is that God dwells there with them. It is not the fortified walls of Jerusalem that protected the people, but the very presence of God, who was their stronghold. Even if enemies rages against Jerusalem, the secure hope of the people of God was that He was there. God has not moved. He is with His people.
But, we should not think that the psalm only applies to the earthly city of Jerusalem. The “city of God” is a major theme throughout Scripture and involves not only the security of earthly Jerusalem, but also the safety of God’s people throughout history. It culminates in the new spiritual Jerusalem, city of God in heaven, which Jesus is preparing as the final dwelling place of His saints. Thus the “city of God” or the “holy place” is where God dwells. The dwelling place of God today is not in a city or a building, but in His people, the church. God dwells within you. Those who confess Jesus as Lord and trust in Him as their Savior, they are the dwelling place of God. They are the Temple of God. Our ultimate security does not rest in any earthly building, city, or nation, but in the very presence of God within us. Ultimately, our security will be in the heavenly city Jesus is preparing for us and where we will reside when He finally brings us home. So, take comfort that you are never alone. God is with you!
God Will Be Exalted
But, what else can we do when it is not peaceful at times? How do we respond to the threat of evil men intent on causing us harm and destruction, even while we worship God? If anything, that does not seem secure and peaceful. What can we do?
Psalm 46:8–10 8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The response to the chaos of the world is to worship God, to behold His greatness. God’s goal for choosing the Israelites was to exalt Himself to the peoples of the whole world, to bring them all to live in godly peace with one another. This would be the means by which He makes wars cease. Thus, in the midst of chaos, we should be still. We should stop fretting. We should remember that God is in control. No worldly disaster, no malevolent dictator, no murderous madman will topple God’s authority and rule. These things should also not topple our trust in God. They should not topple our hope in Christ. They should not topple our confidence in God’s presence with us. It is possible that the charge to “be still, and know”, is God speaking to the nations. If so, God would be speaking to those nations that rage, to those nations that war against Him and against His people, that He will be exalted among them. God will see to it that the mission of Genesis 12:1–3, that all the families will be blessed, is accomplished. One day, every knee will bow, whether willingly or not (Philippians 2:9-11). God may be saying to the whole world to stop your fighting. Know that God is sovereign and He will be exalted. The psalm then ends with a refrain of what we have learned.
Psalm 46:11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
We are reminded that God is with us. He has not moved. He has not left us. God is the only sure and stable thing in the universe. He is our refuge, our fortress, our strength, and a very present help in times of need. Turn to Him. Trust in Him. Worship Him!
In closing, what do we do when the world is in trouble? What do we do when evil threatens us, even in a place we feel is safe? We do not have all the answers, but, we do have the Answer. We have Jesus. While there is sadness, folks at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are trusting in the hope in our Heavenly Father who loves us very much. They are trusting in their Savior Who knows exactly what pain, loss, and suffering is. That is the kind of Savior we need when our hearts are shredded by brutal loss. We need a Savior Who knows exactly how vulnerable and insecure we feel. Jesus is that Savior. He knows your pain and He does not want you to go through pain and suffering alone. Turn to Jesus. Trust in Him. Peace in this chaotic world can only be found in Christ. This is good news. Thanks be to God. Amen!