God the Trap-Springer

Fourth in the Psalms of Ascent Series,
Delivered October 11, 1998 by Dr. Ronald W. Scates

Sermon Text:
Psalm 124 A song of ascents. Of David.
1 If the LORD had not been on our side– let Israel say–
2 if the LORD had not been on our side when men attacked us,
3 when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive;
4 the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us,
5 the raging waters would have swept us away.
6 Praise be to the LORD, who has not let us be torn by their teeth.
7 We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped.
8 Our help is in the name of the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Back in October of 1987 perhaps you were like me – praying all day long, tuning in on the hour to news broadcasts that gave the latest update on the rescue, the rescue of little 18 month old Jessica McClure, who had fallen in a well shaft in Midland Texas. She had only been left alone for a few moments in her aunt’s back yard. She had playfully dangled her feet over a very innocent looking eight inch wide hole in the ground. But when Jessica tried to stand up, she slipped into the hole, one leg up and one leg down, and found herself wedged in the pipe 22 feet below the surface. Rescuers drilled a 29 foot shaft parallel to the well and then bored a five foot horizontal tunnel through solid rock in an attempt to reach Jessica. All the while, medical people were worried that dehydration and shock would take her life before the rescuers could get there.

The thing took far longer than anyone expected. The solid rock, plus equipment failure, meant that it took 58 hours before they could reach little Jessica. But they finally bored through and reached her, but the way she was wedged in the pipe, they couldn’t move her! Medical personnel hooked up monitors to her and they discovered the worst – that she didn’t have any time left – that critical point between life and death had arrived. The medical personnel conferred and they told the rescuers pull hard – she has no time left- you may have to break her to save her! And they pulled! And miraculously, little Jessica popped free without any serious injuries.

I can remember to this day, there in our den in San Antonio watching this rescue live on television, and I remember Katie and Anna and me, we began jumping up and down and cheering and praising God because little Jessica was now free. What do you cheer, what do you say, what do you sing when you have been delivered from overwhelming odds? Well, as we continue our sermon series on the Psalms of Ascent, Psalm 124 answers that question for us. I would invite you to turn in your Bibles and to keep them open during the sermon to the 124th Psalm. This is the word of the Lord.

If the Lord had not been on our side, let Israel say, if the Lord had not been on our side when men attacked us, when their anger flared against us, they would have swallowed us alive. The flood would have engulfed us. The torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird out of the fowler’s snare, the snare has been broken and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Join me as we pray. And now Father, as my words are true to your word, may they be taken to heart. But as my words should stray from your word, may they be quickly forgotten, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Can you picture King David, on his war steed, leading his battle-weary troops through the gates of the holy city, Jerusalem. Like Lee at Chancelorsville, they had been totally outnumbered. Like Custer at Little Big Horn, they had been completely surrounded. The prognosis was terminal. The diagnosis was that they were not going to make it! They had no hope on the battle field. They were helpless. They were as good as dead. They were goners.

And yet here are David and his troops in massive voice singing Psalm 124, a song of victory as they go into the gates of Jerusalem, coming back from the battlefield. And they ascribe praise to God. “The only reason why we made it was because of God! We were as good as dead, and yet now we are alive.” All because God somehow, somehow intervened and made a way for David and his men not only to survive but to win a great victory.

God makes a way. When you and I are hemmed in with hopelessness, when you and I are trapped like a bird in a fowler’s snare, God can make a way and he made a way for David. Now some of you here this morning know how to sing this song, this Psalm 124. A few years ago you were told that you were terminal, that you would not survive cancer, and you found yourself hopeless and helpless and in that hopeless situation you learned that there is God.

Others of you, a few years ago, nobody would have given a nickel for your marriage. You were facing insurmountable odds, and in the middle of that, you discovered God. A God who can make a way. What is it this morning that has you feeling trapped and cornered? Can God make a way for you and me? Psalm 124 is that song, that tune that you and I need to learn to whistle when you and I are hemmed in on every side when everything looks hopeless, when we are up against insurmountable odds.

Like the geek who asked this really beautiful girl if he had a chance of getting a date with her. “Was there even a one in a hundred chance that I could get a date with you?” She said, “one in a hundred! More like one in a million!” He says, “ah, but there is a chance right?”

No matter how bad it looks, no matter how hopeless and helpless we feel, there is God. And God can and often does make a way. And in this Psalm before us this morning, we discover that we’re not just dealing with some run of the mill, good intentioned, but limited God. Look at verse 8 of your text. There we learn that this God is none other than the God that made heaven and earth, this is the God who was Lord over history who weaves ever event of history into his perfect plan of salvation for his people. This is a God who is Lord over every cell in your body and mine. This is a God who cannot be handcuffed. This is a God who is omnipotent. This is a God who can deliver.

And then we learn something else about this God in the Psalm. Look at verses one and two. David says, if God had not been on our side, we would have been toast. We didn’t have a prayer in the world, we would have been wiped out. It was like we were standing – David uses graphic language in verses 3 through 5 – it was like they were up against an angry dragon who could have swallowed them. It was like they were standing against a raging river or flood that indiscriminately and completely sweeps away everything in its path. And yet David says, this God is for us. This God is our ally. Because he is our ally, we survived. We made it. Maybe you are thinking in the pew this morning, “Is this God my ally?”

Maybe you are recalling that famous quote by Abraham Lincoln back in that tragic war where both sides were claiming God’s favor, when Lincoln said, “you know, the thing is not if God is on their side or our side, the important thing is, are we on God’s side?” Now that’s an impressive quote, but it’s not the gospel. Because, you see, this text before us this morning reminds us of what the truth of the gospel is, that God is on our side. This God is for us always, even when you and I are against Him, even when we sin and turn our backs on Him. He still is for us, and my friends, that is the awesomeness of grace. That this God loves you and me so unconditionally and infinitely in Jesus Christ, that this God by the power of his Holy Spirit is for us and can make a way for you and me no matter what we are up against. This God is for us, this God can deliver. He has delivered David, he has delivered some of you, he has delivered me, the only reason you are here today is because God has brought you here. He’s brought you through a whole lot of things. The only reason why you are a Christian is because God brought you out of the blindness of the world and has shown you the light that is Jesus Christ. This God is for us, and he can deliver. Praise be to God.

But this text begs a question, doesn’t it? It begs a question, and here’s the question. “Yeah, but, what about those times when God doesn’t deliver? What about those times when we are swallowed alive and we are swept away? What then? What’s going on?” You can tell me instances in your life when you haven’t been rescued, where God seems to have done nothing. Take for example Joel Stevens, 22 years old, born again Christian, baseball player in the Orioles’ farm system who died last week of colon cancer. What’s the story? Why didn’t God deliver him? Or take Mike Turner, 48 year old Presbyterian pastor who, on a sabbatical this summer, went backpacking never returned. They sent out search parties for a month, they finally found him dead, his legs pinned by an 800 pound boulder, and laying beside him was a journal that he kept for 7 days as he died. Where was God?

You could come forward and tell me stories as well. What do you say in the face of cases like that? We affirm two gospel truths. The first one is this. That this God who can deliver us, this God who is for us can be completely trusted even when he does not rescue us. Friends, God can deliver you a hundred times, but there is going to come that time when he will not. You are not going to live forever in this world. There will come that time when you and I will die. But Joel Stevens went to the grave with his last breath praising God. This is the mystery that you and I are up against. This is the mystery that you and I can’t quite get our head and our heart around. This is the mystery that is so hard that it doesn’t leave any room for that “Praise the Lord Anyway” kind of theology. God still makes a way even in the mystery, so that Joel Stevens dies praising God with Psalm 124 on his lips. And Mike Turner, that Presbyterian pastor, in his journal were great statements of faith for his wife and children that he left behind. Somehow, even in that tragedy, God was there and making a way for him.

Because, you see, the second truth is this. Someday you and I like that bird in verse 7 are going to be trapped by the fowler’s snare. With a capital S. That Snare called Death. And there is no way you and I can beat death. We can’t save ourselves from it. Mortality stares us in the face all the time. But one day, it is going to do more than that. It’s going to snare us. And the more a bird fights against the snare, the more it becomes entangled in it, so what are we to do?

In verse 7, David says God broke that snare. You and I as believers see in the life and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that the snare of death has also been broken. The ultimate grip of death over your life and mine is totally broken. So gospel truth number two is that God sometimes delivers temporally, in this life, here on earth, but always ultimately. Which means that whatever situation you find yourself in, no matter what insurmountable odds are caving in on you like an avalanche, if you have lost your job and there is nothing on the horizon, illness has you cornered, broken relationships have shattered your life and you think “I can’t go on – none of those things” – none of them, ever will be able to ultimately separate you and me from the love of God in Christ Jesus. God does make a way.

In the movie Titanic, at the end a now elderly Rose who has survived the sinking of the Titanic, is talking about her illicit love affair with Jack, and how his life transformed hers and then at the end of the movie she utters the most outright blasphemy I have ever heard in my life. In fact, I half expected God to blow up our VCR as I was watching it. Rescued from the Titanic, out of the icy waters of the North Atlantic, Rose has not a clue about Psalm 124, or the gospel. She totally has missed the boat and she utters this blasphemy – she says that “Jack saved me in every way a person can be saved.” Oh Rose, you dummy! You are elderly! You have death staring you in the face! Jack can’t help you when you die! You can’t help yourself, Rose! You are in the snare, Rose, you have not a glimmer of hope. No one can do it for you, Rose. Only Jesus can. And he has broken the snare of death.

Yes, God is for you, God can deliver. None of us live forever in this life. But we do eternally because our hope is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.

Join me as we pray.
Father God, we don’t understand why you deliver this person and not the other person, we can only say thank you that we have been delivered to the point where we are today. That we are alive, and we are here, and that we have your promise, the promise you never break, that you never leave our side, that you will be with us in life and in death. That nothing can thwart your plan for our lives, and nothing can thwart us from living with you throughout eternity. Oh Lord, whatever we are up against today, make yourself apparent to us. Encourage us. Enable us to learn this Psalm of Ascent, that as we sing it we would have that confidence in the face of danger, disaster, in the face of mystery, that we would sing your praise, knowing that we can never slip between your fingers, because of Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen.