Weekly Meditation: 14th February 2016
1st Sunday in Lent
Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16
In the lectionary readings for today we have God’s promise that when we call upon him he will answer us.
This was impressed upon the Israelites after they left Egypt and were travelling towards their Promised Land. The Law commanded them to make sacrifices and offerings to God, and, as part of their harvest celebrations, they were to offer him the first fruits of their crops. Then, standing in God’s presence, they were to rehearse the story of their escape from slavery. “ … Then we cried out to the Lord, the God of our fathers, and the Lord heard our voice … so the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Deuteronomy 26:7-8). These words would be spoken year by year, so that their children and their children’s children would hear them and know of God’s great deliverance.
There is the same promise in Psalm 91. We can find refuge with God – like a fledgling under its parent’s wing – secure in his fortress (1-2). We have the assurance that “no harm” will come to us (9), our footsteps will be protected (11-12), and we can overcome enemies and danger (13). When we call on God, he will answer us, to be with us, deliver us and honour us. (15).
These two passages speak mainly of security in this present life, of physical needs being met. Paul’s letter to the Romans, however, uses the same theme of calling on God, but applies it to our eternal salvation. Throughout chapter 10, Paul – with his legally trained mind – builds up a case for calling on the Lord in faith. We have “the word of faith” (8) that if we confess Jesus as our Lord and believe he was raised from the dead, we will be saved (9). Jesus is the only way to salvation, and “anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame” (11). Jesus is “Lord of all” (12) and “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (13). The name we are to call on, of course, is that of Jesus himself.
During his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus did not need to call on the Lord for help. He had already received the Holy Spirit, and he had God’s entire authority (Luke 3:21-22). In answering the Devil’s taunts, he made full use of God’s word in the Scriptures, speaking each time from the Law. The Devil himself tried quoting from Psalm 91 – the very words that promise God’s care and guidance (10-11) – but Jesus dismissed him with the words from Deuteronomy, “Do not put your God to the test” (12). Jesus endured this temptation, and ultimately submitted to death, in order to purchase eternal life for us. He came to suffer and die so that we might all have the right to call on his name and be saved.
Of course, when we hear on the news of refugee and migrant families – some of them Christians who know the Lord – drowning in a desperate attempt to find safety in Europe, the words of Deuteronomy and the Psalms have a hollow ring. God clearly has not reached down and saved the lives of these people. This demonstrates one of the differences between Old and New Testaments. In OT times, God was establishing an earthly kingdom, a nation into which his Messiah would be born. Physical protection was important in order to preserve the little nation of Israel, and salvation depended on being part of that nation. Now, however, the Kingdom is a heavenly one, its members drawn from across the globe, and we find salvation in acknowledging its king, Jesus Christ. Temporal life is of minor importance in comparison to the eternal life in the Kingdom, offered through the blood of Jesus. And, truly, no one and nothing can rob us of that, for “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (10:13).
By Susan Thorne