In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit.
In the desert temptations endured by Our Lord, the devil begins each time by saying: “If you are the Son of God.’ The devil is not denying that He is. He acknowledges the possibility but he wants proof. The devil wants Jesus to act less like men and more like God. He who feeds the world should not be hungry. He should be seen in a large public place, like the Temple, in His power and glory, maybe even being served by angels. That would be appropriate for the Most High. That would prove it.
So the temptation, “If you are the Son of God throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you.´ and ‘In their hands they shall bear you up lest you dash your foot against a stone.’ Our Lord does not argue about what is appropriate or what the Psalm means. He simply says, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’
Psalm 91 belongs to the Church not to the devil. It is sung by Christians all over the world on Invocabit Sunday as a contrast to the devil´s lying misuse of it. It is a promise for the Christian. The devil tempts Christ by suggesting that it should be no less for Him! Thus the devil proves once again that while figures never lie, liars always figure. Theologians, even the devil, always quote the Bible.
The devil tempts God the Son to be God, to leave man alone. Why should He help them who hate Him? The devil says, “Go be God somewhere else. Let me have these men. Let them serve their sentence. Give them what they deserve.’ But you should not tempt God. For this temptation shows that the devil does not know who God is, because the devil will not accept that God behaves in exactly this way. He is in the desert starving so that the world would be fed. The angels do not protect Him from the Sanhedrin´s soldiers so that they might battle demons. And His kingdom is not of this world. He is not like the devil seeking to steal and force His way. He does not harvest where He did not sow. He is not cruel. He is gracious and kind, serving and forgiving. He loves the unloving and unlovable. He gives His life to men.
The devil did not misquote. His grammar is perfect. He follows all the rules. He simply misapplies. But there is no meaning without application. In the first place this Psalm doesn´t promise safety from stubbed toes or give Christians the authority to command angels. More than one believer prayed this Psalm on his way into battle and then stubbed his toe and died in that battle. But only according to the flesh. Because believers never die. They pass through death to life and company of angels. God promises salvation, security, and safety for the believer´s soul.
But more significantly then the devil´s misapplication, he refused to recognize or admit that the Son of God is not known in power and glory or the service of angels, but in humility, suffering, and death.
Here is the confession and application of Psalm 91: The believer dwells in the secret place of the Most High by faith. It is not visible to men. It is not of this world. In Christ crucified and raised the believer is spared the brutality of the scorching sun. He does not have to face his sins. They are forgiven. He is covered with the feathers of God´s mercy. He finds refuge under the wings of grace. He calls upon God and is answered. He prays, “Our Father . . . “ and the Father says, “It is done for you My adopted and beloved son because the Word made Flesh has declared it so.’ The believer is not alone in the troubles of this world. He has an Advocate with the Father and a Defender against the devil. Death does not terrify him for he knows that he will never die – even if a thousand fall at his right hand. Hell is an empty threat. His entrance into heaven has already been paid. No evil or plague shall befall him. Angels fight for and beside him, rejoicing over his repentance and faith.
That is what Psalm 91 confesses and sings. It is really the same as all the Scriptures and what all Christians believe. Only a devil, bent on denying the grace of God in Jesus Christ, would think otherwise. Jesus Christ will deliver us.
In +Jesus´ Name. Amen.
Rev’d David H. Petersen
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Fort Wayne, Indiana