Young People’s Convention Speech, Loveland, Colorado, August 15, 2003.
I wish to begin by expressing my sincere appreciation to the Loveland congregation and the Young People’s Society. On behalf of us who visit your fair state, I thank you for the countless hours of hard work you put into this convention. We truly appreciate all you have done. Be assured that the value for us—in Christian fellowship and spiritual enrichment—is worth all your hard work.
I heartily thank the Young People’s Society for asking me to speak. I count it not only an honor, but it is a joy to address the covenant youth of the Protestant Reformed Churches and friends from other churches. I also express my enthusiasm for this most fitting theme for the convention set in the Rockies.
This speech is based on Psalm 125:2. Psalms are inspired poetry that comes out of the heart of a believer. Poetry has a unique power to it. It is not a detailed description such as we would want if we had to drive to Loveland church. Nor is poetry carefully-worded instruction, such as Paul wrote on justification by faith to the Romans. Poetry is short on words, and long on imagery. It gives us snapshots—colorful, breathtaking—and allows us to contemplate the word pictures.
That is what we have in Psalm 125:2. As literally translated, the inspired Psalmist began, “Jerusalem, the mountains around her.” That paints the picture of a city surrounded by mountains. Then he added the stark comparison, “So Jehovah to His people.”
Keep in mind, too, that since this is poetry, it arises out of the life of the Psalmist. Yes, the Holy Spirit gave him the words, so that they are God’s words to us. That means we can trust these words, and believe them. But at the same time, the Psalmist wrote this verse out of his own experience. If you had lived at the time of the Psalmist, and could have asked him “How do you know that Jehovah is around his people like the mountains around Jerusalem?” he would have described events from the history of Israel, and his own life, that demonstrated this truth.
Thus our purpose this morning is twofold. First, we must consider the striking photograph that the Spirit gives us, so that we understand it, and grow in knowledge. Secondly, we must come to see for ourselves that this is true for us—that we already in our lives have experienced the fact that God is our Protector.
What does this mean?
Mountains! How can we adequately describe them! “Awesome” comes to mind. Beautiful! Surely humungous! And, solid!
Jerusalem was a city both built on, and surrounded, by mountains. The favored city was built on a sort of plateau of mountains, which included Mt. Moriah, where Abraham had offered Isaac, and where, much later, God appeared to David on the threshing floor at the end of the three days of plague. Upon this mountain Solomon would build the temple.
Mt. Zion was another of the mountains upon which Jerusalem was founded. Mt. Zion was a high and rocky fortress, and the last height to be taken by Israel in Jerusalem. It was not until the days of David, that the Jebusites were finally driven out, and there David built his palace. It is called the city of David, but sometimes Scripture uses this name to refer to all of Jerusalem.
Jerusalem was also surrounded by mountains. On the one hand the range of mountains, labeled the Judean mountains, enclosed much of Jerusalem. The imposing Mount of Olives flanked the city’s other side.
The situation of Jerusalem was enviable from many points of view. It sat atop steep cliffs that dropped down into the valleys surrounding her. That, and the mountains about her, created a natural defense for Jerusalem. It also contributed to the striking beauty of Jerusalem. This lovely city was built on high hills and yet was hidden by the mountains around her. Travelers coming to Jerusalem would first see her when they came over these mountains, when, quite suddenly, the whole city would emerge—the city nestled in the mountains. It was, we are told, a very lovely sight.
We must remember that God created that spot for Jerusalem. Jerusalem would be a city like unto none other—the place where God would put His name. Jerusalem is the city of God, and His house would be established there.
Thus Zion, or Jerusalem, is a picture of the church of God. Many apt comparisons can be made between Jerusalem and the church. God would dwell with His people in Jerusalem as the covenant God, even as He dwells eternally with and in His church. Consider that the church is made spiritually lovely, even as Jerusalem was. The church, like Jerusalem, is glorious (Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Ps. 87:3). The church is the chief joy of the believers, as the captives also sang of Jerusalem in Psalm 137. We should note also that the glorified church in Revelation 21 is called the “new Jerusalem,” a city with streets of gold and gates of pearls. Yes, as a type of the church, Jerusalem on the mountains had beauty and strength.
But God also ordained that Jerusalem be surrounded by mountains for defense.
The Bible has much to say about mountains. Certainly the Bible emphasizes that they are solid and immovable. Mountains are a symbol of timelessness (Hab. 3:6: the everlasting mountains). Mountains are also a symbol of steadfastness, so much so that God illustrates His faithfulness using mountains—”The mountains may depart, but my kindness shall not depart from thee” (Isa. 54:10).
We can add that the mountains symbolize immovable strength. What in all this creation can overcome mountains? They have stood for centuries: beaten by rain and hail; their rocky cliffs swept by driving winds in winter and summer. They are trodden by countless beasts of the forests as well as man. Yet they abide, changeless and immovable for centuries. Man, with all his inventions, and all the ability that God has given him to subdue the earth, yet rightly stands in awe of the mountains.
We pointed out that these mountains were a natural defense for Jerusalem. When enemy armies marched on Jerusalem, they would need to bring men, horses, and wagons over the mountains, down into the valley, and then yet stand before the cliffs on which Jerusalem was established, with her walls and fortresses. From a human point of view, one could hardly ask for a better defense than Jerusalem had. Every night, the people of Jerusalem could go to bed knowing that the mountains surrounded them, protecting them from invading foes. Every morning they could rise up and behold that the mountains were still there—immovable barriers, granite sentinels for the city of God.
As striking as this glimpse of Jerusalem is, it is but the picture of something far more wonderful, namely, that as Jerusalem is surrounded by mountains for defense, so the Lord is to his people.
It is fitting that these mountains picture the protecting presence of God, for they point to some of the perfections of God that make Him the supreme and only defender of His people. If the mountains point to unchanging steadfastness, Jehovah is the reality. He Himself said, I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed (Mal. 3:6).
If mountains symbolize timelessness, God is timeless—”Before the mountains were brought forth,…even from everlasting to everlasting, thou are God” (Psalm 90:2). God abides, steadfast, unchanging, and immovable.
Do the mountains dominate the land with their immenseness and rugged power? God is far greater than mountains in every way. God is everywhere present. He upholds heaven and earth. All creatures exist because He created and upholds them. All power is His.
If the foes of Israel had trouble approaching Jerusalem, and a nearly impossible task in overcoming the city, then keep in mind that that is only a dim picture of the reality, namely, that the enemies of the church cannot get past Jehovah to destroy His church.
God is the defense of His people. Every morning, His own people waken to the knowledge that God is with them and surrounds them as mountains of defense. Every night, they can sleep in peace, for Jehovah only makes them to rest in safely.
God is the defense of His people. The Psalmist knew that the mountains were natural defenses, pointing to the true defense of Jerusalem, Jehovah alone.
God is that for the individual believer also. Psalm 121 promises that Jehovah is thy keeper (notice the singular “thy”). A keeper is a guard. As soldier guards a prisoner, so with watchful eye Jehovah guards and preserves each of His own.
It should be plain that this is true only because of the kind of God that Jehovah is. He is sovereign over all—the devil and his host, all men women and children, including the wicked who oppose God, and God controls all diseases, floods, earthquakes, and death itself. If God is not sovereign over all, then this Psalm is wrong—the mountains are no defense. If God does not control death, or the raging of the ungodly, or the devil’s temptations, then He is no defense. But those who know the God of the Bible as their sovereign Lord have assurance that He is their defense.
Against what does God protect us?
But why is this so important, that the church is protected? And, against what does God protect us? The importance of good protection is due to the fact that we are very vulnerable. We can be hurt; we can be attacked. At a very young age we discovered that a fall could result in skinned up knees, or perhaps even a broken arm. We came upon viscious dogs that could bite. We were warned of evil men lurking, who kidnap, even kill.
Dangers still threaten us, and some of these dangers are far more devastating than a skinned knee or a broken arm. There are “accidents” in which people are killed daily. Thieves and rapists live in our land. Death in diverse ways can rob us of a friend, or a father or a mother, a brother or sister.
The reality is that danger surrounds us. In the face of that reality, the Bible’s testimony is this: God is our defense. Our Divine Keeper protects and cares for us, so that we are shielded from most of the dangers of this life. They do not come near us. Just consider that over 400 conventioneers and chaperones traveled from far-flung places in the continent and arrived safely here in Colorado. That is no coincidence; God was our mountain of defense.
But there are far worse dangers than these physical catastrophes, as bad as they can be, namely, spiritual threats. These are real dangers, sometimes deadly, and the devastation can be far worse than the physical injuries.
Spiritual dangers are not totally separate from the physical trials, nor are they unrelated to them. Spiritual threats ordinarily follow on the heels of the physical troubles. That is, when we are afflicted, smitten in this life, our faith recoils as well, and we can find ourselves spiritually very low. When death snatches someone close to a believer, from his family or friends, the pain of separation can be overwhelming. And the devil works very hard to make that sorrow to be angry and bitter, so that the believer rebels against God, His will and way. We need a sure defense against these attacks.
It happens that a youthful believer lies on a hospital bed, racked with pain, facing surgery perhaps, or filled with cancer. Life seems to be passing him by. All the world enjoys fun and laughter as he suffers. He is tempted to cry out, “This is not fair.” The devil stokes up his natural feelings, seeking to turn that youth against God completely. We need a defense against this.
Every sorrow, every blow in this life leaves us reeling, staggering, and open to the temptation of the devil. But God is our strength. He is our defense.
This very text has been brought into many a grieving home and hospital room, when sickness, death, or grievous trouble had struck. Through the afflictions God’s people come to know from experience that while it seemed as though they were left unprotected, they never were. For there is another similarity between God’s ever-present defense and the mountains about Jerusalem, namely, both can easily be overlooked. I dare say that none of us from the plains or the cities would ever imagine that the mountains would cease to astound us and press upon us daily their testimony of beauty and strength. But the people from Redlands, from Lynden, and from Loveland become so accustomed to having mountains nearby that they forget that the mountains are there.
So it is with us and God. We can forget that He is ever near as our constant defense. Do we get up every morning conscious that He is surrounding us? Do we think of how He surrounds the car when we drive? Do we remember that he is ever guarding us from innumerable evil influences? We forget. We become accustomed to God’s solid, immovable, and steadfast protection. That, until God allows, for our good, a blow to smite us—those evils of life that come upon us. First, perhaps, we may despair, asking, How can I go on? How could God do this to me? Where is He when I need Him? But he is there; He never left us. It is only that we were not conscious of Him. Through it all, His power sustains us; His Spirit comforts us; He gives us wisdom to see the troubles and disasters in a new light, and realize that everything works together for our good. And the devil’s dagger is broken off, harmless against us.
There are still more dangers, more direct attacks from our spiritual foes (the devil and the ungodly). Satan comes with temptation, and often, with a smile. He would entice you and me by making sin appear to be attractive. He makes evil to appear good, and the corrupt waters of sin which yield sorrow and death to look like the fountain of life and joy.
And we are so vulnerable! For we have an old man of sin that agrees totally with the ungodly of this world. This old man of the flesh hates God. He loathes talk of sin and repentance. He has no interest in the joys of heaven. He loves the earthly, the carnal, and the vile. Thus this attack of Satan is, indeed, deadly.
But against this attack, too, you have a defense. God is there, surrounding you, as really as the mountains protect Jerusalem.
Oh, there are times that God allows us to fall. He does this in justice because we hanker so intensely after sin, imagining sin to be beautiful and fun. So God will teach us how deceitful sin is, and that though it promises laughter, it brings death and sorrow.
Yet in it all, He remains nigh. Even it should be said, that God remains especially near to us when we fall into sin. Else, all would be lost. The fiery darts of Satan wound, but never destroy the Lord’s people. And the only reason is this: God preserves us infallibly.
Surely you have experienced that, covenant youth. But allow me to demonstrate it to make you conscious of God’s defense of you. You, like your parents, conceived and born in sin, have fallen into sins, perhaps even grievous sins—sins of fornication, of stealing, of drunkenness, or rebellion.
Understand the power of that attack! These are sins that, for the youths of this world of unbelief, set them on the path of destruction from which they never escape! Some begin to steal in their youth, and they never leave that sin. They are dishonest all their lives—they cheat on their income taxes, or are dishonest businessmen, or they rob people at gunpoint. Their end is destruction.
Some youths begin to drink in their youth. They get drunk at an early age. Soon they cannot do anything without beer—nothing is fun without it. They become drunkards who end their lives in the gutter.
Others begin at an early age to commit fornication. It becomes a way of life, a snare from which they never escape. They live as adulterers and adulteresses, going from one marriage to another, or one partner to another, unto their destruction.
However, with you it is different even when you fall into sin! To be sure, there are consequences that God visits upon us for our sins. One consequence is that after we have committed a sin, it is easier to do it again. In this way our struggles against that sin become more difficult. And, God sends hardships—for David it meant that the sword never departed from his house. Yet God does not LEAVE you in the sin. He does not give you over into the sins, so that you perish in them, and spend eternity in hell.
Even in the lamentable falls of David and Peter, God did not utterly remove His Spirit from them. He cannot, because He is around His own like the mountains around Jerusalem. He convicts us of our sins. He gives us repentant hearts, and, a hatred of those sins. God by His sovereign grace not only upholds us, He gives us the power to fight temptation. The mountains keep us from total destruction—God is our defense!
We must point out one more attack. We are vulnerable to the violence of persecution at the hand of the wicked. For what is the church but a little handful out of the billions in this world. The world is mighty—think of the instruments of war developed and displayed in the latest war in Iraq. It always has been that way. That raises the question: Why then has not the world of the ungodly simply extinguished the church and utterly removed her from the earth?
They have tried! In the dawn of history, Cain rose up and slew his brother, Abel. Enoch was encircled by evil men seeking his life. The church was reduced to but eight souls in the days before the flood. After Pentecost, imperial Rome rose up to snuff out the life of the fledgling church. In the day of the great Reformation, the false church joined with wicked rulers to put to death millions by the sword, by fire, and through torture.
What confidence does this truth give us?
Yet the church abides. And she abides without taking the sword to defend herself, and without establishing an earthly kingdom of might. Why? The only explanation is that Jehovah was ever as mountains of defense about the church.
The same will be true to the end of the world when all the forces of evil unite and seek to purge the followers of God from the earth. This persecution will be worse than anything heretofore experienced by the church. But this I know: God will still be there—a wall of granite, a sure defense. He will be, in fact, using the great tribulation for His own purposes—on the one hand, purifying His church, and on the other, allowing the cup of iniquity to fill up. At the same time, according to God’s own counsel, Christ will be rushing to save His church. The gates of hell cannot prevail against His church.
What a blessed comfort we have as God’s people! We are comforted now in the harsh adversities of life that we encounter, and that some of you endure today, including loneliness, divorce of parents, breakup of friendship, and disease. There are times that we want to give up in despair because the burdens are too heavy to bear. You face, as covenant youths, temptations almost unbearable, sometimes aggravated by the fact that friends or classmates give in to the temptation, and you feel as though you stand alone. You experience persecution—enduring the sneers and ridicule for your faith and godly walk. And that will only increase, for you and I will probably be the objects of the last, bitter persecution.
In all this, we need to know that God is about us. He IS with us. You do know that He is not far removed, sitting way off in heaven, disinterested in your troubles. In fact He is willing to come down to us in the squalor of this life, and even to abide with us.
He did this in Jesus Christ. God became flesh and dwelt among His own, and that in order to deliver them from death, hell, and Satan’s stranglehold. That is why His defense of us is sure—the victory is won in Jesus. Christ is the Rock of defense and refuge. Christ is ever near—He abides in us by His Spirit. He is strength, and imparts to us His strength so that we can never be removed. The power of Jesus is all about us so that the devil and all his host cannot not so much as move, apart from the will of Jehovah.
Now, and unto eternity God is our defense, even into the new heavens and earth! Again, this is a needed reassurance for our burdened souls. We look to the next world for full deliverance from all that now oppresses us. But what assurance do we have that we will arrive there? This: God is our protector, and will guard us even from eternal death. And what assurance do we have that in heaven, neither we nor any other saint will fall again, and plunge the whole life of heaven into corruption and hell? This assurance: God will be our defense forever!
Cling to that truth. Through all the adversities of life we learn from experience what the Psalmist testifies. Jehovah is round about us, protecting us. Precious covenant youth, learn to put your trust in Him alone. He will not forsake you. This week, every time you look at the mountains think of what it would be like to have mountains for your defense. Then think of that fact that your Protector is far, far greater than these mountains. For this God is our God, He will be our guide even unto death.