A Mighty Fortress

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A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing; Our Helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing; For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; His craft and pow’r are great, and, armed with cruel hate, On earth is not his equal.

Martin Luther’s battle-hymn Ein’ feste Burg took its sstarting point from Psalm 46, catching its indomitable spirit but striking out in new directions. The defiant tone suggests that it was compsoed at a time of crisis, which makes the confession of faith doubly impressive. Although the crisis is left unidentified by Luther, Psalm 46 speaks to the various crises we face and how God is our refuge, strength, and a present help in a time of trouble.

The title of this psalm is found in the words For the choir director. A Psalm of the sons of Korah, set to Alamoth. A Song. Although this does not appear as the first verse in the English translations, it is in the Hebrew text. The sons of Korah are listed as music leaders in 2 Chronicles 20:19. They are also seen in Number 26:58. They wrote Psalm 42, 44-49, 84-85, and 87-88. This song has been incorporated in the Songs of Zion because of the centrality of Jerusalem in its message. Moreover, Alamoth would indicate that this is written for higher voices, sopranos perhaps or young female verses.

Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, Were not the right Man on our sid, the Man of God’s own choosing: Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He; Lord Sabaoth, His Name, from age to age the same, And He must win the battle.

God is in the tumult! Psalm 46:1-3

In the midst of chaos, God is there! Notice how Psalm 46:1 begins: God. All things begin with God and all things end with God. His name in the Hebrew is Elohim which means Almighty. He is the supernatural being who originated and rules over the universe. This name is used in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth.” The sons of Korah know that it is God who is in the midst of the chaos and it is He who is in control. Consider this: It would be much worse if God was not in the midst of the tumult!

What we do learn about God in this verse is that He is our refuge. He is our security. He is the One to whom we run when trouble comes into our lives. God is also our strength. He is the One who can handle the pains of life through us. The word strength in the Hebrew can also be translated as fortress. A fortress is walled, and it brings security to those within the walls. It keeps the enemies from coming into the city. It keeps the enemies penetration from happening and causing troubles. We also see that God is a very present help in trouble. He is an abundant help in trouble. He is a present help in trouble. He is in the midst of our trouble providing for us in a few ways: 1) He provides a way of escape; 2) He provides a way of strength; and, 3) He provides a conclusion to the trouble that befalls us.

This is why Psalm 46:2, 3 tells us that we do not have to be afraid or feel anxious or apprehensive about the situations in which we find ourselves. We do not have to be afraid if the earth should change, if the mountains slip into the heart of the sea, if the waters roar and foam, if the mountains quake at its swelling pride. God is in control of all of Creation. There is nothing that has ever been out of God’s sovereign control. He controls all of His Creation with His spoken word (cf. Hebrews 1:1-4). And the psalmist then says SelahSelah means to take a pause, to reflect, to be refeshed with what was just spoken or sung. It’s refreshing to know that God is our refuge, our strength, our present help in times of trouble. And notice that He is present with us at this very moment.

And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us, We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us; the Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him; His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure, One little word shall fell him.

God is in His city! 46:4-7

The city of God is where the Most High dwells. There is peace that inhabits the city of God, namely because the presence of the Most High. God will not allow her walls to fall down. When He speaks, the people of the earth lose courage to stand against Him. Even though other nations would fall, Jerusalem will be safe. Even though other nations will roar against Him, Jerusalem will be safe. For what reason? God is our fortress! He controls the unseen armies of heaven. He is a Person to whom His people can flee for refuge when enemies attack. The Bible teaches us in Habakkuk 2:20 that God is still on His throne which indicates that He is ever ruling, ever in charge, ever in control.  And for this reason, the enemies of God’s people quake.

That word above all earthly pow’rs, no thanks to them, abideth; The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth; let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still, His kingdom is forever.

God is in the earth! Psalm 46:8-11

The psalmist then turns his attention to the works of God. He takes us to review the in our minds’ eyes the Lord’s deliverances of His people (Psalm 46:8). He has caused Israel’s enemies to become a wasteland. The armies of the enemies have been destroyed. It is God who causes wars to cease and He is the One who breaks their bows and their weapons. In other words, He fights for His people while at the same time providing protection for them.

The psalm ends with the Lord’s presence being with His people. He is with us. He is present. He is our refuge right now. He is our strength right now. He is a present help in times of trouble right now. It is now that the Lord dwells in us through His Holy Spirit (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

Praise be to God who is our refuge, our strength, and our present help in times of trouble.

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Hush, Be Still

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Uncertain Times

We are living in uncertain times. Today more than any other time in our lives we have seen store shelves emptied for fear that people will run out of food. When we first heard that toilet paper was going quickly, there was a mad rush to get all that we could get and it didn’t matter if we would end up taking more than we need.

Are there any other storms in your life that you’ve faced? Were they as uncertain as our times today? How was your faith during those trying days?

From 1347-1350 A.D., the Black Plague–otherwise known as the Bubonic Plague–swept out of China or India to the Crimea and thence into Europe as far as Iceland. This particular plague killed one-fourth of the population of Europe.

Martin Luther, the famed reformer in the 16th Century, wrote to Dr. John Hess in a letter entitled Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague, these words: “I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help, purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Read Mark 4:35-41:

35 On that day, when evening came, He said to them, “Let us go over to the other side.” 36 Leaving the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. 37 And there arose a fierce gale of wind, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling up. 38 Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” 39 And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. 40 And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” 41 They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”

“God, don’t you care about us?” 4:35-38

Have you ever asked that question?

“God, don’t you care about me? Aren’t you at all concerned with what I am facing at this point in my life?

We can’t look at the disciples and judge them too quickly for their questioning Jesus; after all, He was asleep in the back of the boat! And if we’re honest about ourselves, there have been times that we have felt distant from Jesus even though we know in our minds that He is ever-present with us.

This is the Sea of Galilee. They are gong from one side of the sea to the other. Scripture says there were other boats traveling with them. Most boats on the Sea of Galilee are not very large even to this day, but this one must have been large enough to carry all of them. All of a sudden a storm arose.

As small as the Sea of Galilee may be, it can be a fierce place to be when on a boat. Such storms result from differences in temperatures between the seacoast and the mountains beyond. The Sea lies 680 feet below sea level. It is bounded by hills, especially on the east side where they reach 2000 feet high. These heights are a source of cool, dry air. In contrast, directly around the Sea, the climate is semi-tropical and the Sea causes large temperature and pressure changes. This results in strong winds dropping to the sea, funneling through the hills. The Sea of Galilee again is small, and these winds may descend directly to the center of the lake with violent results. When the contrasting air masses meet, a storm can arise quickly and without warning. Small boats on the sea are in immediate danger. The Sea is relatively shallow, just 200 feet at its greatest depth. A shallow lake is whipped up by wind more rapidly than deep water, where energy is more readily absorbed.

And what of Jesus? He’s sound asleep on a cushion in the stern! This should have just been about “a three-hour tour, but the tiny ship was tossed” and it was filling up with water rapidly.

Now in the midst of the storm, do you ever feel like Jesus is slumbering? Do you ever feel like He’s not around in the midst of the storm?

This is exactly how the disciples felt when they asked, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” In other words, “Are you willing to just let us perish with the storms in our lives?” The disciples woke Jesus in the stern of the boat.

“Don’t you trust Me?” 4:39, 40

Jesus Christ quickly responds by rebuking the wind and hushed the Sea. The idea of rebuking here means that Jesus gave a stern warning to the wind. Then Jesus silenced the sea, He put a muzzle on the sea and kept it there when He said, “Hush, be still.” Now I don’t know if Jesus Christ spoke loudly to the wind and the sea, but I tend to think that He said these words quietly–calmly. I think that He simply did this to show the power of God in such a way that the disciples would believe Him to be the Son of the Living God.

Verse 39 continues that the wind died down. The word in the Greek text for died down means that the wind grew weary; it was tired of blowing and ceased to cause such a stir! And then something extraordinary happened: it became perfectly calm. It means that the sea became perfectly serene–smooth as glass! All of this happened in a moment, a quick moment, a fraction of a moment in time.

Now in the midst of the storms in life, do you ever want Jesus to recognize the trouble in which you find yourself? Do you want Him to rebuke the winds and calm the seas of life–the troubles, fears, doubts and regrets that you face?

Notice how Jesus Christ cares for His disciples. He calms the wind and the waves. They see Him speak, “Hush, be still.” He doesn’t just intend these words for the wind and the Sea. He intends for His disciples to hush, and be still. He desires for them not to have a troubled heart in the midst of the storms of life. And in the same way He speaks to His disciples He is speaking to us today:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. John 14:1

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. John 14:27

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Jesus cares for His people and wants them to be still in Him just like the wind and the sea are in Him. And this is why He asks His disciples this heart-wrenching question: “Why are you afraid? How is it that you have no faith?” He cuts to the quick! For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12)

The word used for “afraid” is not the standard phobos in the Greek, from whence we get the word phobia. Rather, the word used is deilos which means to be cowardly, timid, fearful, without courage. He cuts to the chase and asks His disciples who have seen His power through miracles, signs and wonders, “How is it that you have no faith?”

How is it that you struggle with relying on Jesus? How can you go through life without dependence upon Jesus in every storm that you weather? How do you think that you can live without believing Jesus?

“Who is this Jesus?” 4:41

They asked this question because they were very much afraid at this point. They are not only cowardly, but now they are greatly afraid of the situation they’ve just experienced.

How is it that the wind and the seas obey Jesus? How is it that He can control the elements? Who is this Jesus?

Consider what the Bible says about this Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1

All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. John 1:3

I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me. John 14:6

For us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him. 1 Corinthians 8:6

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:21

He existed in the form of God, but did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped. Philippians 2:6

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1-4

And on His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.” Revelation 19:16

This is who Jesus Christ is! He is Lord and Savior to His people! He is Lord and Savior to those who believe in their hearts that God raised Him from the dead! He is Lord and Savior to those who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord!

If He can handle the wind and the seas, He can certainly handle the storms in our lives today!

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The Betrayal & Last Supper*

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Matthew 26:14-30

A Story of Betrayal

It was one o’clock in the afternoon on a sunny day in Dallas, Texas when people around the world found out that the President of the United States—John Fitzgerald Kennedy—was dead from a head wound.

November 22, 1963 was a normal campaign-tour Friday as the President and the First Lady were visiting Texas. They were in the Presidential limousine on a short drive from Dallas Love Field to the Dallas Trade Mart, where President Kennedy was to give a speech to over 2,000 guests at a luncheon honoring he and Mrs. Kennedy.

His running mate, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, was by his side during the campaign run but rode behind the Presidential limo and a Secret Service vehicle. Reports have said that Johnson was angry that he was not going to be in the car with the President, but some suspect that it was merely a show. You see, when the President and his entourage came to Texas, Johnson was about to be indicted for high crimes and misdemeanors. The Attorney General, Robert F. Kennedy, was behind the investigation.

For years, people have suspected that someone other than Lee Harvey Oswald was behind his assassination.

Some have suspected that Johnson betrayed President Kennedy knowing that he would benefit from his death by becoming the next President of the United States. If he were President, then the investigation would be suspended; he would be free of any charges of high crimes and misdemeanors at that point.

Of course there are other treacherous culprits that have been named in the betrayal of President Kennedy. For instance, the military industrial complex, the CIA, and the Mafia have been mentioned as possible suspects; others believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the murderous betrayal of the President. Whatever the case may be, someone or a team of people betrayed someone who depended on them to do right.

The Ease of Betrayal

Through history, the greatest betrayer was Judas Iscariot — he saw Jesus’ ministry for three years and knew Him personally. When Judas went to see what the high priests were willing to give him for betraying Jesus, they offered him thirty pieces of silver, or 120 days’ worth of wages. Judas wanted one thing — it was to have money and to control money. John the apostle records that Judas was not concerned about the poor, but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box, he used to pilfer what was put into it (John 12:6).

We don’t know why he desired money or why he stole from the coffers, except for one reason: he was a sinner just like every one of us. Although he walked with Jesus Christ during His earthly ministry, even though he saw the miracles that Jesus did, and even though he was counted as one of His disciples —he betrayed Him. It was not a hard thing for Judas to do this because he was already a thief which means he was also a liar during the days of ministry. It was not difficult for him to deny Jesus Christ because he was already denying Him while he was supposedly serving Him and serving with Him. The reason we are able to so easily deny Jesus Christ is because we, too, are sinners just like Judas Iscariot.

The Emptying of Christ

Even though Jesus knew that there was a traitor among the disciples (and I believe He knew who it was all along), He taught them something that Paul the apostle expands in his teachings in Philippians 2:7, 8. Paul says that Jesus Christ “Emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant…He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Because Jesus Christ emptied Himself, many would be saved.

We see this teaching of Jesus Christ giving Himself in the Lord’s Supper. We remember what Jesus Christ did on behalf of the entire world. Jesus was showing His disciples that He was giving Himself as an offering for them. He was portraying that He would give Himself to die for them.

Then Jesus Christ took a wine cup and gave thanks for it. He explained to the disciples how this was a picture of the shedding of His blood. Throughout the Old Testament, the sacrificial system showed that there had to be a blood sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. We learn from Hebrews 10:1, 3, 4 that the people had to “Offer continually year by year, the same sacrifices,” because it was merely a reminder of sins year by year. They needed the sacrifice because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. The act of sacrifice, the act of shedding the blood of bulls and goats, was to atone for the sins of the people annually.

However, the writer of Hebrews continues to teach us that “Having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, [Jesus Christ] sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12). In other words, as the writer continues in 10:14, “For one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” Jesus poured Himself out so that many would believe and have their sins forgiven. His disciples and the others who believe would be sanctified and be saved.

Why did Jesus do this? John 3:16 simply says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”

He did it for you. And for me. And for everyone who would believe.

Now What?

Let us be wary of how easy it is to betray and deny our Savior — not too many days following the first The Lord’s Supper, Peter denied Jesus Christ, even though he believed Him (Matthew 26:31-35). Today, we may hear Jesus Christ’s words and easily fall away in denial of Him by how we live. Let’s be reminded that because Jesus emptied Himself, we are saved today. He willingly gave Himself for us so that we might live for Him. He traded a crown of righteousness for a crown of thorns. He died according to the Scriptures, He was buried, and He was raised again according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3, 4).

Let us never forget what He has accomplished for us.

* With Nicole Gentry

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