Confidence in Christ’s presence with us. Confidence in Christ’s purposes for us. Confidence in Christ’s protection over us.
A couple weeks ago I came across a verse from Proverbs 3:26 “For the Lord will be your confidence”, and it got me to thinking.
What kind of confidence is this? Is this a kind of holy self-confidence? Is this just another way of saying that there is power in positive thinking? Oh no, it surely can’t be. There has to be more to it than that.
In the first place, we read that the Lord will be your confidence. The Lord. Who are we dealing with here? The psalmist writes in one place, “Let all the earth fear the Lord, Let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of Him. For He spoke and it was done. He commanded and it stood fast.” The Lord, our Creator. It is a dogma of the Christian faith that the eternal God created everything there is out of nothing. Ex nihilo is the Latin term for it. And in the book of Hebrews we read that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God, so the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible”. But, really, how could it be otherwise? Unless you want to say that stuff, that is matter, has always existed—always—in which case we are all living in an idiot universe. And if that is true, what is the point of talking about confidence at all?
We read from Psalm 139 this morning, a Psalm of David. “O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You [even] know my sitting down and my rising up. [Why] there is not a word on my tongue but behold O Lord, you know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before.” Do these verses make you uncomfortable? They seemed to have made David, at least initially, uncomfortable. Look how he goes on in verse 7 to say, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee?” I need to get away. How did Billy Joel put it, I don’t care what you say anymore this is my life. Go ahead with your own life and leave me alone.
But we are not alone. One of my favorite Bible verses is from the prophet Jeremiah, in chapter 23. “Am I a God near at hand, says the Lord, and not a God afar off? Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him, says the Lord? Do I not fill heaven and earth, says the Lord?”
We can’t get our minds around it, but verses like the ones we’ve read reveal to us the fact that God is actually closer to us than we are to ourselves. The overwhelming emphasis in Scripture is not that God is very far from us, but that we are far from Him. We push back. We want to run. It is all too natural for us not to want a God we have to answer to. A God we can’t pull one over on. A God that crowds our space. This all too natural tendency the Bible calls sin. I’ll do it my way. And what is the middle letter in the word sin? I think you know what I’m trying to say. And in our pushing God away we cut off our nose to spite our face. No, it is much, much worse than that. The Bible describes sin using the metaphor of a paymaster. “The wages of sin is death.” Physical death. Spiritual death.
This is why our Lord Jesus Christ—of whom the apostle John declares, “all things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made”—this is why he began his earthly ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repent. Oh sure, I get it, Jesus. I guess I’ve got to turn over a new leaf. I’ve got to do better. I’ll try not to swear quite as much. And maybe I throw a few more back than I should now and again. I’ll clean up my act. After all, I’m basically a good person.
Well, that wasn’t the gospel the apostles preached. Or the martyrs died for. No, it was this—that none of us are basically good. We read in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.”
True repentance is the turning away from ourselves, to Christ. We all learned in Sunday School that He is the Savior of the world. Yet it is not enough to believe that He died for the sins of the world. It is enough to believe that He died for your sins. It’s not really about “accepting the Lord”. It’s more, as we sing at Christmas—“Fall on your knees! O hear the angel voices!” I have learned, my Lord and my God, that you are rich in mercy. While on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by. That’s being poor in spirit. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
For the Lord will be your confidence. Your confidence.
There is or used to be a poster in the back of the church that read, God accepts you just the way you are, but not so you’ll stay the way you are. Our salvation is not some pie-in-the-sky thing. It’s a life-transformation. “Old things have passed away. Behold, all things have become new.”
Before, the thought of God’s nearness was irritating, something we’d rather not think about. Now, it is our confidence. We read in Psalm 91, “he who dwells in the secret place of the most high shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, he is my rock and my fortress, my God in Whom I trust.” Or from Psalm 16, “I have set the Lord always before me, because He is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. My flesh also will rest in hope. For you will leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow your holy one to see corruption. [This is the resurrection that we look for] You will show me the path of life. In your presence is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Our confidence is in Christ. We are confident of His presence with us, now and forever. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end.”
St Augustine is famous for having said, “We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they can find their rest in you.“
And as good Presbyterians, we should all know the answer to the first question from the Westminster Confession, “What is the chief end of man?” To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.
Our confidence in Christ. We can be confident of His presence with us. We can be confident of His purposes for us. For you and me. Apart from Christ, life really has no path and no destination. That is why Jesus said, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Nobody comes to the Father but by Me.”
And we can be confident of Christ’s protection, too. This last part, however, is no doubt the most challenging.
If you listened carefully as Psalm 91 was read, and it did not raise questions, then you probably weren’t really listening. Let’s look at it again. “Surely he shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler, and from the deadly pestilence. He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge. His truth shall be your shield and buckler. You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, nor of the arrow that flies by day, nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand shall fall at your side, and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not come near you.” Wait, stop. Isn’t the Psalmist getting carried away here? Let’s be real. Isn’t this hyperbole? Verses like this used to really give me trouble, until I realized something. Our Lord, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, when He assumed a human nature, became man, and walked among us, He went to the synagogue faithfully. He would have read these verses. He would have no doubt memorized them. Not just because He was a good Jewish boy, but because he knew them to be the inspired words of God, His Father.
What am I trying to say? We need to look at these verses through the lens of Christ. Was He protected? More than once, when the scribes and Pharisees surrounded Him with plans to throw Him off a cliff, the Scripture says He disappeared from their midst.You can almost picture them saying, “What the? Where’d He go? He was just here.” Jesus would often say things like, “My hour has not yet come.” And yet it did finally come. He was given over to His enemies. He was mocked. He was beaten. He was crucified. He was laid in a borrowed tomb. His dying words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” And three days later His message, His life, his divinity were all gloriously vindicated when He was raised from the dead.
No, the Psalmist wasn’t getting carried away. We can be confident of Christ’s presence, His purposes and His protection. We don’t go through life whistling through the graveyard, so to speak. Life is real. Death is real. Pain and suffering are real. But we, like the Psalmist, are to set the Lord always before us, because He is at our right hand, we shall not be moved. Moved from our firm conviction that God is Sovereign over all things, and if He calls on us to endure hardship, His grace will be available to endure it. “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
I can think of one case in church history where a thousand did fall, and close to ten thousand at his right hand, and yet he was spared. It is the story of Martin Rinkart…
Christ is our confidence. Confident of His presence, His purposes for our lives, and His protection. These truths are summed up beautifully by the apostle Paul in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans:
“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died—more than that—who was raised, who is seated at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all day long, we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And all God’s people said, Amen.