Sermon Text: Psalm 46
Date: June 24 & 25, 2017
The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession
Psalm 46 (NIV84)
1God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.Selah
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.Selah"
8Come and see the works of the Lord,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
he breaks the bow and shatters the spear,
he burns the shields 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.”
11The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.Selah
A Mighty Fortress is Our God
This year is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation begun by Martin Luther, a monk who lived in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther had noticed that what he had been taught in the church didn’t actually line up with what the Bible said. This year marks 500 years since Luther posted his 95 Thesis for debate to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. That is sometimes called the birthday of protestant churches or at least the Lutheran church. However, today is the real birthday of the Lutheran church because today is the day, 487 years ago, that the Lutheran church made it clear what we taught and what we stood against as it presented the original version of a confession of faith and teaching we’ve come to know as the Augsburg Confession.
This is remarkable timing, though, because this week we just finished our week of Summer Bible Camp with the theme of “Mighty Fortress—In Jesus the Victory’s Won.” You can still see of some of our fortress or castle decorations here in the sanctuary. But it’s not just good timing because the hymn of the day happens to be “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” a hymn that we sang often this week at camp. And it’s not just good timing because our sermon text, Psalm 46, is the psalm that Luther based “A Mighty Fortress” on and was a psalm that we looked at and even memorized parts of during camp this week. It’s fitting timing because everything we talked about this week—the assurance that God is our helper and protector in all things (especially eternally) is the very core teaching of the Lutheran church and the Bible itself. These are the things that the Lutherans in Augsburg boldly confessed 487 years ago; they are the very things we confess today.
Fear is a universal feeling and emotion. Everyone here has a different life, a different past, but one thing that unifies us is our fears. Maybe we fear what a troubled financial situation means for our future. Maybe we fear how we’re raising our children. Maybe we fear what our relationship with our coworkers means for our future employment. Whatever we fear, it tends to center around an uncertain future. The men going to Augsburg faced an uncertain future as they faced the full authority of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire. Why did they have any confidence that things would work out well for them?
How can we have any confidence that anything will work out well for any of us? If we’re hoping that God will solve all of our problems, we should probably think again. After all, look at your relationship with God compared to his expectations. What does God demand of you? Perfection, flawless obedience to his commands. And that doesn’t apply to any of us, does it? We’ve all done things wrong, many things wrong. Even if we feel like we’ve been a “good person” or “tried our best,” it’s not enough. Anything short of perfection brings God’s wrath down on us and brings with it the punishment of hell. So if we’re in such bad standing with God, how can we ever expect anything good from him? How could the Psalm writer say that God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble?
The story of our relationship with God doesn’t end with our sin. Everything we said is true: God demands perfection, we haven’t been perfect, and as a result deserve hell. In fact, that’s more or less all information we could know by nature. We know that our relationship with God is messed up beyond our repair. But we learned in Bible Camp this week that God’s Word brings to us information that we couldn’t know by nature. Instead of just “piling on” regarding sin, God shows you and me his solution to our sin problem and why we can rightly call him our refuge, strength, and mighty fortress.
God created us to be his own children. God created us to love us. Our sin and our rebellion against him didn’t change his love for us. In fact, it gave him a clear way to express the ultimate form of his love. Because while we were helplessly condemned to hell, Jesus stepped in and took our place. Jesus, God himself, became a human being to take our place under God’s law. You and I could not keep God’s law perfectly, but Jesus did. He never sinned once in his life, not in what he did, not in what said, not even in what he thought. And Jesus’ perfect life wasn’t just lived as an example, to show us “how it’s done.” Jesus’ life was lived in our place. Jesus gives that perfect life to you and to me so that now God considers what Jesus did to be what you and I have done.
But that still doesn’t solve the problem that we have all of these sins piled up that we can’t do anything about. God’s justice still burned over that sin, something he couldn’t ignore or brush aside. But Jesus was not only content to live a perfect life in our place, he also died the death that you and I deserved. You see, Jesus’ death on the cross was not about being rejected by his own countrymen. It was not about spineless Roman governor who would condemn an innocent man to death to make sure he didn’t get in trouble. Jesus went to his death because that’s what your sins and mine deserved. His agony on the cross was not chiefly the nails, and the suffocation, and the ridicule by those who watched him. His agony was hell, being separated from God, because he was suffering the punishment we deserved in our place.
And if Jesus had died and that was the end of the story, we’d have very little reason for any hope or comfort. But as we learned on Friday this week, that was not the end of the story. After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose from the dead to assure us that God accepted his sacrifice on our behalf. Because Jesus rose from the dead, we can have the confidence that our sins are gone, that we now have a right relationship with God, one no longer tarnished by sin. In Jesus’ death and resurrection, we are forgiven and because of that God has given us eternal life as a free gift.
This was the principle thing that separated the Lutherans in Augsburg from their Roman Catholic counterparts. For years and years, the notion of penance had dominated the church, so that it was a foregone conclusion that you had to do something good, or even let something bad happen to you in an attempt to make up for some of your sins. Yet, that flies in the face of what God promises. He promises that he’s dealt with sin completely. He doesn’t describe himself as a fairly sturdy wall that we need to add some bricks to. He is a complete refuge, strength in its purest form. There is nothing lacking in God that we need to make up for; there is nothing missing from his forgiveness that we need to provide. Jesus did it all. It is done. We are forgiven not based on something good we did for God but because of everything wonderful that God has done for us.
That is the context that we need to understand this psalm. Our sins are real. The punishment for those sins is very real. But when you realize what Jesus’ cross and empty Easter tomb mean, that they mean complete forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life with our Savior, then these words and promises start to become clear: God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
God’s forgiveness is the ultimate comfort. God’s forgiveness means that we can come to him with any trouble, any sorry, any fear and we know he will take those problems and do what is eternally best for us.
But that doesn’t stop the fears, does it? We’re still weak, we still lack faith. When we face adversity, our gut reaction is wondering what we can do to save ourselves rather than trusting God will do what we need him to do to help us. And you know what? God knows that. He knows that we will continue to struggle with these things. And that’s why he structed Psalm 46 in the way that he did. You have promise after promise after promise of God’s protection and power. And then we get to v. 10, a verse that is so simple and yet so amazingly important: “Be still, and know that I am God.” God is saying, “Your problems are real, your fears are real. But calm down. I’ve got this.”
That is the comfort our Mighty Fortress brings that no matter what the problem we have, from a tough quiz at school to eternal fears, he will take care them. My brothers and sisters, do not let fear overwhelm you. Your God is greater than your fears; your God is greater than your sins. Be still, and take refuge in your Savior, your Mighty Fortress, today and forever. Amen