Bible Readings and Devotion for April 23, 2020
Here are the references for the readings. Please look these up in your print Bible, your smartphone app Bible, or your online Bible:
Devotion for April 23, 2020
By Pastor David Tinker
When I was a student at the University of Texas I was involved in student campus ministry. The two groups I was involved with were the Lutheran Campus Ministry and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I enjoyed the teaching offered by both groups. At a Bible study meeting offered by InterVarsity we learned about and discussed Psalm 121. The teachings that day have stayed with me for about 35 years now. Here are some of the things I learned that day, and which I have added to in the years since, regarding this beautiful psalm.
The context of the psalm is during the time of Ancient Israel. It was most likely before the exile in Babylon (500s BC). That means, its first context was the time between 1000 and 600 BC.
It is “Song of Ascents.” This means it was a psalm, or song, which was sung by the people and at worship as they headed to Jerusalem and the Temple. Jerusalem was built on hills. The Temple was built on the hill or mountain called Zion. The people understood that they were going up to the Temple, even though they may be heading to the city from a higher elevation. It was up, and therefore they ascended to the Temple. The psalms of ascent were about going up to the higher and more wonderful place of the presence of the Lord. This psalm is about delighting in being in the Temple with the Lord.
We need to remember that there was a giant problem in this time of history. The problem was that most of the people, and sometimes even the kings, were distracted in some way by the worship of pagan idols. These idols were essentially fertility gods. The Canaanite people who also lived in the Holy Land worshiped these various false gods. Their rituals were meant to manipulate these false gods into providing favorable growing conditions for crops. You will see mention of these false gods by the names of Ba’al, Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, etc. For the most part these pagan idols and false gods were worshiped up in the hills outside the city of Jerusalem in locations called, “high places.”
The psalm begins with a pleasant sounding question, “I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come?” In reality, it is not telling us or the people of ancient Israel to look for help from what is up in the hills. The “high places” were a place of sin, death, and idolatry. There would be no help from these pagan idols. There is no help coming from the powerless and fake statues in the high places who do nothing. So, the question is not to urge us toward the hills. Rather, it is to dismiss the terrible idea of seeking to please the false gods.
To counter this, the psalm writer gives an alternative answer. Rather than the false gods, the psalm write notes, “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” In other words, those pagan idols are absolutely nothing. The only true help is in the Lord our God. The Lord is not some statue on an altar up in the hills. The Lord is the one, true God in all the universe. The Lord is the one created all that is. The Lord is forever. The Lord reigns above all. He is King of kings and Lord of lords. We don’t manipulate this deity. We simply and humbly rejoice in his goodness and mercy and glory and love.
The rest of the psalm tells of some of the beautiful and powerful ways that the Lord is with us, helps us, and protects us in the journey of life and faith. The Lord is always with us, every day, every night, and everywhere we go. The final verse is, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.” This verse gives us peace. It reminds us that the Lord is always. This promise of the Lord is echoed in many and various ways elsewhere in the Holy Scriptures.
There are two of my favorite echo verses in God’s Holy Word.
Matthew 28:20b: Jesus said, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Revelation 21: St. John shared this vision, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.””
In eternity, God and his people will be together. All the damage of sin will be gone. All the grief of the fallen world is wiped away. We will be restored fully to our connection with the Lord.
In the here and now we live in what Christians call, “The Already and Not Yet.” This means that, through saving faith in Jesus, we are already participating in the forgiven life with Jesus. It is not yet in full perfection. We are given glimpses of this life with God through the revealed Word of God.
We are living in a challenging place. In faith in Christ we live with our lives in two places. We are firmly planted in this world to live out our callings and ministries. We are here side by side with our fellow Christians.
At the same time we are people who, by God’s abundant grace, know our future is sure and certain in God’s loving hands. We live in the care of, “the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”
Lord Jesus Christ, you have prepared a quiet place for us in your Father’s eternal home. Watch over our welfare while we are on this perilous journey. Keep us from harm and danger and bring us at last into eternal bliss and joy as you live and rule with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer from Lutheran Book of Worship. Copyright © 1978/2020 Augsburg Fortress. All rights reserved.