If He Had Not Been There
Rev. Kurt Lantz Proper 7 B Psalm 124
June 20, 2021 Resurrection Lutheran Church St. Catharines, ON
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
If it was not for Tony being on our team, we wouldn’t have won nearly as many high school football games. If it had not been the United States who was on our side in the Second Word War, Europe and perhaps more of the world would have suffered much more under Hitler’s “Third Reich.” If it had not been for teenager Grant Brown, six-year-old Mason would have been mauled to death by a Pit Bull dog. There are many dangers in life and many heroes who come to the rescue so that we narrowly avert peril. But there are some dangers that cannot be averted. There are some assaults that all are powerless to withstand. There are some enemies that cannot be resisted.
Today’s psalm (124) expresses the huge sigh of relief and thankfulness to the LORD God for saving His people when no one could have prevented their destruction. Using words that come naturally to us in times when we recognize that we would have perished on our own, David invites the whole nation to join him in voicing praise to the one God who has come to their rescue time and again. And so, he invites us to join in as well: “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive” (vv. 2-3).
King David could have been reflecting on a recent victory over the nasty Philistines who had been such a torment to the nation in his day. Perhaps even the showdown with the giant Goliath was on his mind, when King Saul and his army were helpless and David, as a young shepherd, was handed the victory by the LORD God (1 Samuel 17). Surely, if the LORD had not been on the side of Israel that day, David would have been squashed like a bug, the Israelite army overrun, and the people subdued to slavery.
Perhaps also on David’s mind was the miraculous deliverance that the LORD provided for Israel when they had left Egypt and Pharaoh’s army pursued them and had them cornered at the Red Sea (Exodus 14). If it had not been the LORD who was on Israel’s side that day, their bodies would have littered the seashore instead of the Egyptians.
In today’s Gospel reading the disciples were sure that they were going to die at sea. “A great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But Jesus was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke Him and said to Him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ And He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm... And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?’” (Mark 4:37-39, 41).
“If it had not been the LORD who was on our side... then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us; then over us would have gone the raging waters” (Psalm 124:2, 4-5). Who is this that even the wind and the sea obey Him? It is the LORD who is on Israel’s side, without whom we would surely perish.
The New Testament tells us that the Christian Church is the new Israel (Romans 11; Ephesians 2), God’s chosen people. Instead of being descended from the twelve tribes of Jacob, Jesus built His Church on the teaching of His twelve chosen apostles (their teaching about Him). He is the LORD who is on our side.
He proved it that day in the storm. No one could have saved the disciples from that storm. The experienced fishermen among them knew it all too well. They knew they were going down and they only woke Jesus so that He might provide them with some comfort in their last hour as they died. But He did so much more than they expected because He is so much more than they expected. This Jesus is the LORD who is on our side to save us from every threat, every assault, every evil. He alone can do it.
Just like Old Testament Israel had its enemies who would have crushed them to the ground if the LORD had not been on their side, so the New Israel, the holy Christian Church, has had the LORD on its side and can pray this psalm with David and all those who believe that their salvation is only in the LORD God of Israel, that is, Jesus Christ our God and Lord.
In the early days of the Christian Church the Jewish Pharisees tried to use the Romans to wipe out the Christians. Saul went around with warrants to arrest Christians and bring them to Jerusalem for trial and execution (Acts 9:1-2). They had stoned Stephen to death (Acts 7:54-60). They had James killed with the sword (Acts 12:2). They scattered the Christians from Jerusalem to the far ends of the empire. “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us up alive, when their anger was kindled against us” (Psalm 124:2-3).
In the middle ages, at the time of the Reformation, while the Christian Church was trying to sort out exactly what the Gospel really is, armies of Turks were conquering through the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and Asia. These invading Muslims made it right up to the gates of Vienna Austria, exterminating Christians, driving them out of entire countries, forcing whole nations into submission. “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us... then the flood would have swept us away, the torrent would have gone over us” (Psalm 124:2, 4).
In the spread of the Communist political machine in Eastern Europe, East Asia, and Central America, all Christian pastors and priests were rounded up and executed or sent to die in work camps. Churches were converted to gymnasiums or political halls. Bibles were seized and burned. Religious gatherings were outlawed. Yet the Christian Church survived even this modern slaughter and persecution. “If it had not been the LORD who was on our side when people rose up against us... then over us would have gone the raging waters” (Psalm 124:2, 5).
People are rising up against the Christian Church again, their anger is kindled against us, the flood threatens to sweep us away, the raging waters are rising. A great deal of the attacks against the Christian Church are due to our steadfast adherence to God’s Word, which condemns sin in all of the many forms that the world sees as liberated living. Some of the attacks are in response to grave sins that people within the Christian Church have committed even in her name, such as the atrocities in some residential schools here in Canada. Modern attacks continue to be driven by a political ideology that will not have the people look anywhere for help and salvation except to a government that does not acknowledge any god to dictate what is right or wrong or expedient for a ruling party to subdue their people.
These very real threats continue against the Christian Church as they have throughout history, as Jesus Christ taught that they would by saying, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18). It hated Him so much that it nailed Him to a cross, stuck a spear in His heart, and let Him hang there dead for all to see. If it was anyone else, that would have been the end of it. The Christian Church would be over before it had even begun. But remember who this is.
This is the one whom the sea could not swallow. This is the one whom the torrents of a flood could not wash away. This is the one who slept while the waters were raging. When He said, “Peace! Be still!” the wind had to stop and the waves were forced into calm submission. He said, “Thus far shall you come and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11), and His people were saved.
This is the LORD who is on the side of His people to defeat every one of their enemies, to rescue them from every peril, to divert from them every disaster that would threaten to wipe them out. And they thought that a few nails and a spear were going to be the end of Him. It had worked on everyone else, but it would not stop this Man.
The Lord Jesus rose from the dead. He conquered all of our enemies: death, the devil, the world, our own sinfulness. This Jesus died and rose again to give us victory over them all, to save us for eternal life with Him in paradise under His gracious and good reign. This is the One who is on our side.
The holy Christian Church will always face opposition from the world. Christian congregations will always have challenges to survive. Christians individually will always suffer attacks to try to exterminate their faith. But we have one on our side who has conquered every foe. “He has not given us as prey to their teeth! We have escaped like a bird out of the snare” (Psalm 124:6-7). Not even the snare of death and the steel trap of the grave can hold us. Jesus, who is on our side has smashed them to pieces so that we might escape!
There is a very good reason why the people of Israel sang this psalm on their way to celebrate the great feasts at Jerusalem, commemorating the Lord’s deliverances. There is a very good reason why sailors sing the Navy hymn that was our first hymn today (LSB 717). This is the one who is on our side and so there is a reason why we regularly use the words of today’s psalm to remind us in all situations, even when facing our most damning sins: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8). This Jesus is on our side.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.