Dear people in need of refuge,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Sometimes we just want to have a place where we can hide away from the world and everything that it throws at us. Perhaps you have a favourite blanket with which you like to curl up on the coach to feel warm and covered from the cold realities of life. Maybe you have a cottage somewhere away from the city where you can go to get away from it all—all of it, the depressing news, the weight of responsibilities, the hatred of enemies. We all would like a place to hide at some point, and particularly when the attacks intensify.
Today’s psalm (Psalm 31) begins by crying out to God for refuge from the attacks of enemies. “In You, O LORD, do I take refuge… in Your righteousness deliver me… Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!” We want God to be a place where we can hide away from what gets thrown at us. We want Him to be, not just a cottage out of town, but a strong fortress where they cannot get at us at all. When we feel assaulted most intensely, we want to be able to go to the LORD and hide in Him.
Like a threatened child we don’t want to be caught way out on the playground at recess where the bullies can get at us. We want to stay inside, and run home after school to the safety of our house, places where our enemies wouldn’t dare try anything against us. But they stalk us and seek their moments. They wait until we are alone, exposed, open to attack and then they pounce.
So it seems at all ages of life. We try to shelter ourselves and make our ways as secure as possible. We try not to go places where there are risks. We try to cover ourselves financially, and to stay physically healthy. But it seems that once we are vulnerable in one area of life, then the attacks flood in from all directions. Once we are caught compromised financially, then we also suffer attacks to our health and our emotions and from family and so on. Then we want to isolate ourselves in our homes and not talk or visit with anyone, not do anything where we might be exposed to further harm in any way.
But we have to go out. We have to work and shop and do the banking and get the mail. We have to live. So, if our own places of refuge cannot shelter us all the time, 24 hours a day and 7 days a week, who will rescue us when we are exposed and can’t cover it up, when we are dashing home from school between the protection of teachers and the walls of our home? Where can we hide when we have been caught out in the open, when there is no place to hide or to escape and when even the walls of our home have been breached?
In the recorded words of Jesus from the cross, we hear Him pray a line from today’s psalm, crying out for rescue and a place to hide from all the assaults of His enemies. When He was fixed to the cross, nailed into place, surrounded with nowhere to go, as the enemy of death came right up into His face, “Jesus, “calling out with a loud voice, said, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit!’ And having said this He breathed His last” (Luke 23:46).
There was no place else to go. There was nowhere else to hide. But there was somewhere He could be safe, even as death came over Him. Into the hands of His Father He placed Himself, into the hands of Almighty God.
Judas had betrayed Him into the hands of sinful men, who did all kinds of evil against Him, physically, verbally, emotionally. The only escape was to place Himself into stronger hands and they were there to receive Him and hold Him and take Him out of the hands of any who would do Him harm.
Jesus’ own hands had been a place of refuge for many. He healed, He forgave, He fed, He blessed little children and people of all ages and conditions. He held out His hands even to those other people would not touch. But He never used the almighty power of His divine touch for His own benefit, and when He took our place to die in our stead on the cross, those hands were nailed immobile. Literally and figuratively. The divine power in His own hands was laid down so that He might endure the full suffering, pain, and punishment of one who has truly taken our place.
Those hands were chained and tied, beaten, bloody, and bruised. They were pierced with nails and the wounds stretched in pain and agony as He suffered for us. And so, when every power was out of His hands, He cried out and commended Himself into the hands of the Father.
That is where we can always go for refuge. It was when Jesus was taking your place that He cried out “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” From your place He cried and prayed and looked for rescue to God the Father Almighty. That means that you can cry out to Him, too, whenever you need a place to hide, when you need to be rescued, when you are looking for refuge from any kind of attack, any kind of danger, any kind of evil.
That includes the evil of your own sins. For it is often the case that those who attack us are retaliating for something that we have done against them: something we said, or even something we failed to do for them when they were in need. Oftentimes we are unaware that anything we have done would have caused them pain and suffering, but that does not mean we have been innocent. When our sin comes to light we can despair all the more, for where will we hide when it God who has offended us, God who is pursuing us, God who penetrates through walls and barriers and gets right into our mind and heart?
It is because Jesus cried out on the cross in our place, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” that we still have someone to cry out to when we are being pursued even for our sins. When we are wasting away inside because of guilt and shame, when others have forgotten us as dead because of something we have said or done against them, we still have somewhere to hide. We still have a refuge and a fortress. We still have one to rescue us and deliver us. Because Jesus has taken our place under the wrath of Almighty God against sin, and His great cries of distress were answered, we can be sure that our God will hear us whenever we cry to Him in distress.
“In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverence” (Hebrews 5:7). He was heard, despite suffering in your place. He was heard even though He was bearing all of your sins. He was heard, and so Almighty God will hear you, when you cry out to Him in reverence. When you cry, confessing your sins, and seeking His undeserved grace and mercy, He will hear and He will answer, and He will rescue you from death. Because of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, Almighty God is your place of refuge, your rock and your fortress.
You know, Jesus suffered in agony on the cross for about six hours. So it is likely that He did not just pray one verse of the psalm, reserving it all for the moment of His death. Rather, throughout His passion, He likely prayed several psalms entirely. We also have recorded His words from Psalm 22, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me” (22:1). Both psalms 22 and 31, written by David a thousand years earlier, express the despair of those suffering in this world, and the faith that looks to God alone for rescue. Jesus, having taken our place prayed those prayers in the midst of His own suffering and death, and having passed through death to resurrection, He prays them even now with you as you cry out in the distress that you face in your life and suffering and death.
“But I trust in You, O LORD; I say, ‘You are my God.’ My times are in Your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors! Make Your face shine on Your servant; save me in Your steadfast love!” (Psalm 31:14-16).
The heavenly Father heard Jesus' cries and He raised Him from the dead. He still hears the cries of His Son, who is crying out for you. And He has the same answer. He will raise you up from the distress of your soul. He will bring you out of the shadow of death to life everlasting. You have a sure refuge in Him. Every day and every night you can pray with confidence (with Jesus) as the catechism has taught us to use these words from Psalm 31, the words that Jesus used on the cross: “Into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul and all things.” You know that your loving heavenly Father hears you for the sake of His Son, and He will shelter you from all your enemies and bring you to everlasting life.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.