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“Immanuel in the Storm”

Psalm 46:1-11
Bob DeGray
December 4, 2005

Key Sentence

The promise of Christmas is that God is with us even in the storms of life.


I. God is our refuge (Psalm 46:1-3)
II. The Lord is with us (Psalm 46:4-7)
III. Be still and know (Psalm 46:8-11)


        There is no doubt storms have been on our mind a lot this year. The hurricane season of 2005 was record setting in almost every category. Hurricane Epsilon, which formed this week in the Atlantic was the 26th named storm of the year, shattering the previous record by five. It is also a record 14th hurricane in one season. Three of those storms, Katrina, Rita and Wilma, were among the most intense ever in the Atlantic basin, with Wilma breaking Hurricane Gilbert’s old record by reaching 884 millibars of central pressure. Wilma was also the ninth named storm of the season to make U.S. landfall, tying a record set in 1985. And of course these three storms combined to make 2005 the costliest hurricane season ever, with the bulk of that coming from Katrina’s $150 billion dollar price tag. Early forecasts predict that the 2006 hurricane season is also going to be very active.

        So we’ve thought a lot about storms this year, we’ve watched storms, some of us even got to sit through parts of a storm during our evacuation, and of course we’ve all talked to people whose lives were radically and tragically changed by this year’s storms. Late this month the generosity of this church and others will enable a dozen of us to go to Gulfport, Mississippi to work on homes damaged by Katrina, and those stories, I think, will be the most gripping of all. The people of the Mississippi Gulf Coast took such a tremendous hit, and sat under the roar of category 2 and 3 force winds for so many hours, and in many cases took storm surge further inland than they had ever thought possible. It was truly devastating, and the chance to help is going to be good.

        But of course we recognize that there are many different kinds of storms in life. Major storms include not just hurricanes and tornados, but also the tragedies of earthquake and tsunami, and the storms of terrorism and of war. It’s been a year of these storms, and millions have been affected. And yet multiplied millions are affected every year by more personal storms. There are the storms of sickness, storms that come when a loved one dies; there are economic storms, loss of a job or stress of a budget whose ends won’t meet; there are relational storms, when anger and hatred boil, or rebellion and tragic choices divide, or depression saps you; there are storms of all kinds, and every life experiences them.

        But our brief Christmas series this year is about Immanuel, that great name and title given to Jesus by the prophet Isaiah and affirmed centuries later at his birth. Immanuel is a Hebrew word, a Hebrew phrase really that means ‘God with us’, and we’re going to explore its implications. This week we’ll focus on the undeniable and comforting Biblical truth that God is with us in these storms. The promise of Christmas is that God is with us even in the storms of life.

I. God is our refuge (Psalm 46:1-3)

        Our text is Psalm 46, one of the great Psalms of comfort, and one that first comes to mind in any of these storms of life. Let me read the whole Psalm, and then we’ll focus on verses 1 to 3 where we’re reminded that even in the storms of life, God is our refuge. Psalm 46:1-11 For the director of music. Of the Sons of Korah. According to alamoth. A song.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
        and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
        the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
6Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth;
        he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.
10"Be still, and know that I am God;
        I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth."
11The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

        I love the rhythm of this Psalm: external chaos - internal peace because God is our refuge and our strength. The common Biblical image of a refuge is of a place to hide, like the famous Tower of Refuge on the Isle of Man, especially from war and revenge. In Biblical times the only safe place when war swept over the land was a walled city, with your own people on the inside and the enemy on the outside. The only safe place when unjustly accused was a city of refuge, where you could flee from the avenger. The only safe place from the ravages of the wilderness was a stronghold, a place of food, water and shelter. The verse clearly teaches that God himself is that refuge. God is the place to hide, the place to run, the place of safety.

        Furthermore he is the source of strength. He is the one who enables us to stand while the storm rages. In the modest storms of my own life and in the modest storms of our church’s life I hope I have learned one lesson - and that is to declare early that I do not have the strength to stand, that we do not have what it takes to endure or find wisdom or show love, but that this strength must come from God. God is the person to whom we flee for refuge and our source of strength.

        Furthermore, he is an ever present help of trouble. Here is the presence of God. The phrase literally reads: ‘in trouble, his help, greatly’. The word trouble means ‘in a tight place’ and the word ‘greatly’ means excessively. When you get between a rock and a hard place, as so often happens in relationships and finances and other circumstances, his help is found excessively, or, as the translators take it, unceasingly. There is no time when his help is not present.

        That’s the promise of this Psalm, even in life’s storms. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. One translation argues that it should be ‘therefore we do not fear’; these storms are not hypothetical - they are real, and the refuge, strength and help of God are real in them so we do not succumb to fear. I don’t think the Psalmist is saying he doesn’t feel fear - he’s saying he does not let fear master him, overwhelm him or control him - and this in the midst of the storm surge, when the waters roar and foam and even the mountains fall into the sea. When the tsunami comes ashore, when the mud slides bury whole villages; even in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. And what does the rest of that verse, in Psalm 23 say? ‘For you are with me’. It’s his presence in the storm that is our refuge and strength and help. And of course that presence is the promise Christ gave us: “I will not leave you as orphans”; “Behold I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

II. The Lord is with us (Psalm 46:4-7)

        The author of this Psalm, one of the Levites whose job was to lead worship, has told us God is our refuge. He goes on to make it clear that the Lord is with us. Verses 4 to 7 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

        The promise of the Old Testament was the special presence of God at the sanctuary where he was worshiped - first the tabernacle and then the temple, both ultimately located in the city of Jerusalem. On the surface that’s what these verses are looking at: God is present in Jerusalem and his power defends her; like Theoden and Aragorn riding forth at dawn to break the siege of Helm’s deep, God rides forth at dawn against the enemies of his people and crushes the nations gathered against them.

        But the Psalmist talks of a river that makes glad the city of God - and there is no river in Jerusalem. Never has been. The closest thing to a river is the small stream that flowed from Gihon spring to the pool of Siloam. One translation resorted to seeing this as a description of the irrigation canals that flow near the city. But you don’t normally associate joy and gladness with irrigation ditches. Isn’t is possible that this section is somewhat prophetic? Scripture does look forward to a great river that will flow out Jerusalem in the millenial days, after the return of Christ

        Joel 3:18 "In that day the mountains will drip new wine, and the hills will flow with milk; all the ravines of Judah will run with water. A fountain will flow out of the Lord's house and will water the valley.” Zechariah 14:8 “On that day living water will flow out from Jerusalem, half to the eastern sea and half to the western sea, in summer and in winter.” Later in Revelation 22 we find this fulfillment: ‘Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ These words are also an exact fulfillment of yet another very detailed prophecy, which I’ll leave for you to pursue - Ezekiel 47:1-12.

        So this river whose streams make glad the city of God looks for it’s literal fulfillment in the second coming of Christ and beyond. But for us as individuals, in a spiritual sense, it is fulfilled in his first coming, in the incarnation. When Jesus talked to the woman at the well in John 4, he said “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." Later, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jesus said “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." 39By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.” This water welling up to life within the believer is associated with the presence of Christ and presence of the Holy Spirit - it’s associated with Immanuel, ‘God with us’.

        This the promise of Psalm 46: The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” The word ‘immanuel’ is actually a compound word, ‘immanu’, ‘with us’, and ‘El’ or God’. Here in Psalm 46 it says ‘yahweh sabaoth immanu’ - the Lord of Hosts is with us. It’s really the same as ‘God with us’ except that one of the great titles for God is used: ‘Lord of Hosts’. What greater reassurance could we have than that the Lord of the Hosts of heaven is on our side. One of my favorite examples of this is the accounts of Elisha at Dothan. As a prophet Elisha has been giving away the king of Syria’s battle plans to the king of Israel and every attack has been thwarted. Someone tells the king of Syria that it is Elisha doing this, and that he is at Dothan, so the king of Syria brings up his army and surrounds Elisha and his servant in the town. 2 Kings 6:15 “When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. "Oh, my lord, what shall we do?" the servant asked. 16"Don't be afraid," the prophet answered. "Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17And Elisha prayed, "O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. Elisha had a handle on this truth - the Lord of hosts is with us.

        And what does that truth say to us in life’s storms? If God is with us, who can be against us? Has God changed? Has his care for his people decreased? I don’t think so. He is still with us in life’s storms - even more than he was in these Old Testament days because with the advent of Jesus two miraculous things happened. First, the word became flesh and made his dwelling place among us. Jesus was Immanuel, God mad man, in the flesh. This is the mystery and miracle of Christmas. Mary and Joseph, John the Baptist and the disciples didn’t need to see Immanuel with spiritual eyes - they could reach out and touch him, see his face, hear his words. That’s the first great miracle. The second is that even after his death, resurrection and return to heaven, God is still with us through the Holy Spirit who has been given to indwell us. The Holy Spirit is now Immanuel, for all those who have believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, says “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit.”

        So when life’s storms overtake you the promise of Christmas and the fulfillment of Easter are both Immanuel - God is with us. What is your storm today? I look around the room and I see different families and individuals with different storms. I won’t embarrass you by mentioning your storm - you know what it is. For some of us the storm at the moment is no more than a squall. I often have this little storm hovering around me called ‘too much to do and not enough time to do it.’ It’s a bit like the cloud over Eeyore in Winnie the Pooh. But many of you have bigger storms, and none of you is free from the threat of rain. Therefore you must cling to the promise of His presence in the storm. Isaiah 43:2 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.”

III. Be still and know (Psalm 46:8-11)

        He’s with you in the storm? What can you do to know this? Psalm 43, verses 8 to 11: Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire. 10"Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." 11The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

        “Come and see the works of the Lord.” This is great counsel for those who want to know his presence. Come to Scripture and see the works of the Lord. We’ve just spent twelve weeks in Genesis and we,ve seen God’s greatness in creation, his greatness in judgment, his greatness in planning redemption. Second, come to Bethlehem and come to Calvary to see the works of the Lord. God the Son took on flesh and was made man so that as sinless man he might die for the sins of sinful men. Come to Jesus and see the works of the Lord in your own life. All who believe on him, who trust in what he has done receive forgiveness and cleansing, new life and eternal life, and the living gift of the Holy Spirit, Immanuel within us.

        Finally, look out on the horizon, informed by Scripture, and see the works of the Lord yet to come. I believe that’s what the Psalmist is doing in this section: he looks forward to the day when all will be well, all the promises fulfilled. By his judgment and desolating power the Lord ‘makes wars cease to the ends of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the shields with fire.’ The day will come when Jesus comes again and says enough to all this war, to all this hatred and to all these storms of violence and anger and malice and conflict. No more - no more death or mourning or crying or pain. This is a work of the Lord that we see by faith: the assurance of things hoped for, the confidence of things not yet seen.

        But to fully experience Immanuel we must not only ‘come and see’ his works, but we must also ‘be still and know’. Stop your own striving and know that ‘I am God’. I’ve said so many times: ‘he is God and we are not’. He is sovereign, he is powerful, he is able, he is the one who actually accomplishes any good work, even work that he does through us, so we don’t need to press forward all the time; what we need is to slow down enough, to be still enough to hear his voice, to see his works, to experience his presence. The faster we move and the more noise we make the less likely we are to know that God is with us. The more quietly we sit, the more carefully we listen, the more likely we are to hear his still small voice. It remind me of a submarine which must slow down and still it’s own noise in order for it’s sonar to work most effectively. December is perhaps the most important time to be still and know that he is God, with us in the storm.

        “Come and see; be still and know” Isn’t this the message of Christmas? When the angels announced the birth of Jesus, what did the shepherds say? Luke 2:15 “Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Come and see. Come and see the presence of the Lord. And Mary? What did she do? Luke 2:19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Be still and know. I don’t think I could possibly give you, or myself, any better advice for Christmas. It’s the season of Immanuel, God with us. So, ‘come and see’; seek him out; seek the wonder of the Incarnation. Then ‘be still and know’ Ponder these things; treasure them in your heart. The promise of Christmas is the promise of Immanuel, that God is with us even in the storms of life.

        David Wilkerson, founder of Teen Challenge, tells the following story: "During our trip to Israel, we visited with two saintly women from the Evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, a Lutheran women’s order. The two sisters in Israel have a compound on the Mount of Olives, where they have labored in ministry for thirty-six years. I have known them for all of those years, and they are godly, precious women of the Lord. When the Six Day War broke out in 1967, the sisters faced an immediate crisis. Their house was surrounded by the Jordanian army. One Jordanian military official warned the sisters, "You'd better flee. The war is going to break out shortly, and there's going to be a lot of bombing. You will be caught in the middle of it all."
        But the sisters prayed about their situation, and the Lord gave them the same word he gave Gideon: "Don't be afraid, I will be with you." So, under the Spirit's direction, they stored a small but adequate supply of food and water in the basement, and they moved downstairs to ride out the war. Within days, the Israeli army invaded from the left, and the Jordanians remained dug in on the right. Suddenly, the sisters were caught in the middle of intense warfare, as bullets and shells began flying overhead and landing around them. They huddled together in the basement of their house, spending hours in prayer. At one point the house itself was shelled. One shell dropped through the roof, causing the walls of the house to collapse. The only wall left standing bore a plaque with a scripture promising God's protection. Another shell landed in the house, but it didn't break through to the basement.

        What blessed me most as the sisters told us this story was that throughout their ordeal, Jesus' presence became so real to them. His Spirit filled the basement as they sat huddled in prayer - and soon all their fears vanished. In fact, the sisters said it was the most blessed experience of their entire lifetime. These women had food, water, and shelter and they were protected from their enemies. Yet even this supernatural provision in the worst of circumstances paled in the light of the glorious presence of Christ Himself. The sisters testified "In all of our years in Israel, those were the most precious hours we've ever spent, because Jesus was with us so clearly in that basement. We experienced his presence as we had never known it."

        God is our refuge and strength. The Lord Almighty is with us. This Christmas come and see; be still and know Immanuel in the midst of life’s storms.