“Which Mountain is Your Refuge?”

Scripture Readings: Psalm 11:1-7 (text); Luke 21:20-24

September 26, 2010 Download and print sermon (PDF)

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Mountain RefugeIn the Old Testament, God’s people took refuge in the Temple at Mount Zion. In the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, believers heeded Christ’s words to flee to the mountains of Pella. Today, when crises come, to where do you flee with confidence? And when that great day of tribulation comes, to what mountain will you flee?

“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it, for these are days of vengeance, to fulfill all that is written.”Luke 21:20-22

“For when the city was about to be captured and sacked by the Romans, all the disciples were warned beforehand by an angel to remove from the city, doomed as it was to utter destruction. On migrating from it they settled at Pella, the town already indicated, across the Jordan.”—Epiphanius, 4th century Christian historian

In his Wars of the Jews, Josephus describes the Roman invasion of Palestine that was provoked by the Jewish rebellion against Rome in A.D. 66-70. In the year 68, Vespasian, the Roman general in Palestine, eventually surrounded Jerusalem, and prepared his final attack on the city. However, the Roman empire was plunged into civil war after the death of Nero, and Vespasian then ceased military operations against the Jews while he awaited the outcome of the civil war. Eventually, Vespasian was appointed emperor and had to return to Rome. He turned over the operations against the Jews to his son Titus, another Roman general, who finally breached the city walls and burned it to the ground, including the Temple. The Romans even took the Temple’s golden candlestand and paraded it, together with the captives, before the people of Rome. Most of the tens of thousands of Jews inside the city were killed, including those who took refuge inside the Temple.

The period of calm during the siege by Vespasian was God’s providence to allow Christians trapped in the city to escape to the mountains of a place called Pella. Although the historians Eusebius and Epiphanius both wrote that an angel warned the Christians to flee the city, it is more likely that they remembered the words of Jesus in Luke 21:20-21 when they saw the Roman legions encamped around the city, “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies… then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

Our text also begins with David answering a similar warning to him when his enemies threaten to kill him. Like Jesus, David’s counselor also tells him to flee from his godless enemies. The counselor’s warning even has a mocking tone: “When all your defenses are down, can you protect yourself from the arrows of your wicked enemies? Can God now be your refuge from your evil pursuers? There’s nothing you or your God can do, so flee like a bird to your mountain refuge!”

The Christians during the time of the Roman invasion of Jerusalem trusted the words of Jesus their Lord and Savior. But the righteous psalmist also expresses his trust and confidence, not in his own earthly mountain refuge, but in God’s heavenly mountain. This afternoon, we must answer the question, “Which mountain is your refuge?” Is it your own mountain? Or is it God’s heavenly mountain?

Your Own Mountain?
King David the psalmist begins the psalm by questioning his friends whose counsel is for him to escape from his enemies by going to his mountain hideout. All his life, David went through many crises and afflictions. His situation in this psalm might be one of those: when the evil King Saul was pursuing him out of jealousy; or when his own wicked son Absalom rebelled against him and overthrew his kingship; or when the surrounding pagan kingdoms attacked his kingdom, God’s very own people.

In these situations, his circle of advisers may have assessed that their only hope is to escape and flee to the mountains, like a bird that flies to the mountain forests where it has its nest and where it finds plenty of food for itself and for its young. Like a bird being pursued by hunters with their bows and arrows, David should flee for his life to the mountains, which are places of refuge, where there are caves to hide in, and the thick forests provide plenty of cover. The wicked hunters, moreover, are treacherous, because they conceive of and execute their murderous scheme against righteous David under the cover of darkness.

Sometimes, David wavers in his confidence in God when in desperation, he says, “For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (Psa 73:3). How often do we look at our desperate situation and conclude that God is sleeping and does not care about his people because we see all around us wicked people prospering. Contrary to prosperity gospel false teachers, we see all around us our brethren in Christ suffer deprivation, sickness, hunger and thirst. While multitudes of righteous believers suffer persecution all around the world, we see ungodly and unrighteous enemies of God prosper and multiply.

In the midst of these crises, David’s counselors see the very foundations of their lives crumble into a heap of destruction. In the same way, we see today the wicked enemies of the righteous reject and destroy God’s laws as the law of their nation’s moral, religious and civil life. The moral laws are discarded in favor of wanton immorality and lawlessness—lust for money and power, drunkenness, drug addiction, and sexual immorality. The social fabric of the country seems to have been torn apart. Many evangelicals who profess to be Christians have no knowledge of God, are Biblically-illiterate, and show more evidence of belonging to the kingdom of the world rather than the kingdom of Christ. Corruption is standard practice not only among those in positions of authority, but also among many people, rich and poor, employer and employee. Many ignore civil laws and regulations, and as long as they are not caught redhanded, they are not regarded as wrong or bad. In fact, the palusot culture encourages dishonesty—many boast that they got away with breaking the rules.

Another psalmist points out that the root of lawlessness among Israel’s people are the nation’s leaders:

They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken” (Psa 82:5).

The rulers have no knowledge or understanding of their moral responsibility of promoting justice and righteousness in the land. And when immorality and lawlessness reigns in the land, it is as if the very foundations of the earth—the moral principles God established when he created the earth—are shaken and destroyed.

As God’s special people called out of darkness into his marvelous light, you must not look at all these things around you and throw your hands up and say, “What can we do? The foundations are destroyed and all ‘the pillars of the land are crushed’” (Isa 19:10). You are not to put your trust in earthly foundations, because if you do, then hopelessness, desperation and resignation set in. You are not to flee as a bird to your own mountain retreat, like the medieval monks who separated themselves from the world’s evil ways by living inside their monasteries.

What are some of our earthly foundations that are so easily shaken and destroyed? Material things such as money, homes, cars and other possessions are usually our most treasured foundations. Those are our security, and we continually store treasures, not in heaven as our Lord has commanded, but on earth where moth and rust will destroy them. Our families whom we love dearly are also in the list of our most important foundations. For some, the loss of a spouse or child or parent or brother or sister means the end of their world, with no hope for tomorrow. For others, jobs are more precious than everything else, next to their families. And sometimes, our jobs take even higher priority in our lives than the assembling together on the Lord’s Day.

When these are your foundations and your mountain refuge, you are on shaky ground. Because when the storms of life come, your house will be as a house of cards built on the sand, built with weak materials and without a strong foundation. All of these man-centered foundations of the world—“the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions”—are passing away. The saying is true: “You can’t take it with you.” Only those who “do the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:16-17).

But King David rejects his friends counsel to flee to his mountain refuge. “Why would I flee to my mountain refuge where my enemies would find me and kill me? Why would I put my trust on earthly foundations? ‘In Yahweh I take refuge’! God’s mountain is my refuge!”

God’s Mountain?
From his “holy temple,” his heavenly throne, God actively reigns sovereign over the whole universe. The psalmist is not talking about the earthly temple, but the earthly house of worship is the entryway of God’s people into the heavenly realm. And so when we worship on the Lord’s Day, God actually brings heaven down to us, and the heavenly hosts join us in the worship of God.

David has complete trust in God because he knows that God is not just allowing and watching events “from a distance.” His watching is not just an ordinary watching; he gazes intently and with great interest at his creation. He knows and controls every big and little event in history. He knows each person who ever lived, whether righteous and wicked. God’s knowledge and control of the world gives David total confidence in God, because no evil schemes by Satan and his wicked hosts are hidden from God’s eyes. And although he suffers from affliction and persecution, David knows that God continually tests his own as a father tests the children he loves to make them stronger.

Here, “test”  implies serious examination, trying and proving for the purpose of sanctifying and purifying his people, as when a refiner purifies gold, “when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold” (Job 23:10). God puts his covenant people through fiery trials to refine them for his glory and to keep them faithful and righteous,

And I will put [them] into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, “They are my people”; and they will say, “The Lord is my God” (Zech 13:9).

This is why Paul reminds and encourages us when sufferings come, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet 4:12). He proves the genuineness of our faith, repentance and obedience, but he also chastises us and uses his rod when we go astray. The end result is a people purified of the impurities of sin and who make a covenant vow confessing, “The Lord is our God.”

But the psalmist also reminds us that God also knows the way of the wicked, and he hates them and their violence! David’s enemies plot treacherously in vain to kill him in the darkness of night with an arrow in the heart. This is what God surely hates: when the wicked persecute and kill his righteous people.

No soft words can be used to describe God’s disposition to the wicked: hate! Not less love or less care or dislike, but hate! This is the same word that the psalmists use to describe God’s hate for the wicked: “You hate all evildoers” (Psa 5:5). Also the attitude of David’s enemies toward him and how God will punish them: “I will crush [David's] foes before him and strike down those who hate him” (Psa 89:23). David’s enemies harbor violent hatred against him: “Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me” (Psa 25:19).

Most evangelicals believe that “God loves everyone” and are shocked when they hear us say that God hates unrepentant and wicked unbelievers. When they read Scriptures that say God hates the wicked, they then say, “God hates sin, but loves the sinner.” How inconsistent can that be? If God loves everyone, there will be no hell. And if God does not hate sinners, then why did he destroy all mankind during Noah’s day, all the Amorites, and all the people of Ai and Jericho?

We also see what the wicked will reap on Judgment Day: coals, fire and sulfur. His arrows are more devastating than the arrows of the wicked, because they are as flaming lightnings (Psa 18:14). This reminds us of what God sent to destroy all the wicked people of Sodom and Gomorrah, men, women, children, and all their livestock: “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven” (Gen 19:24). The Lord’s hatred of all evildoers is complete; not one of them will be spared from destruction. He will show no mercy or leniency towards them. In burning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, God is showing us “an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet 2:6).

On Judgment Day, God will vindicate both his just and righteous deeds and his righteous people. All the world will see this and declare, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before you” (Psa 89:14). Each one of us will be given a cup filled with God’s just rewards. The righteous will be rewarded with a cup that overflows with chosen portions and blessings (Psa 16:5, 23:5). But the wicked will inherit a cup that overflows with God’s bitter wrath of destruction (Job 21:20). God’s Spirit will be for them as a scorching wind that consumes like sulfur (Isa 30:33), and as the east wind that dried up and burned Egypt’s crops and livestock (Gen 41:27).

On that day, all the righteous will enter God’s throne room in heaven and see his face, Jesus himself on the throne as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Now, God’s holy and righteous face will not gaze on the whole earth, but his gaze of blessing will be focused on the righteous. This is what John—and us—must also look forward to, “But we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

When perilous times come, where do you flee for refuge? To your own mountain, founded on the world’s security? Or do you lift your eyes to God’s holy hill, from where your help comes (Psa 121:1)?

There is a period of time—maybe days, maybe months, maybe years—before Christ returns, when lawlessness will be unparalleled in the history of mankind. Wars and rumors of wars, pestilence, famine, persecution, false teachers, earthquakes and natural disasters will come to a terrible climax. In terror, the unbelieving people of the earth will hide in the rocks and mountains and plead to them to end their suffering, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:15-16) Their mountains and foundations will not protect them and hide them from God’s fiery wrath. Because all of their lives, Jesus was a Cornerstone of offense that they rejected, and the mountain of Calvary was a rock of stumbling for them. Instead, their foundations are built on the sands of human effort and works-righteousness.

What about you? Will you flee to God as your Refuge and Hiding Place? Will you go hide yourself in the cleft of Christ your Spiritual Rock? Will you stand on the only firm and solid foundation of the Holy Scriptures, written by the prophets and apostles breathed out to them by the Spirit?

The apostle John tells us that the heavenly city has twelve gates and twelve foundations (Rev 21:12-14). The twelve gates have the names of the twelve tribes written on them, symbolizing Israel, God’s chosen people in the Old Testament. The twelve foundations have the names of the twelve apostles inscribed in them, symbolizing God’s elect in the New Testament. All of God’s people, Jews and Gentiles, will inherit the heavenly city. Are you part of those twelve foundations holding up the heavenly city? If you have faith in Christ—the Rock of Ages, the Mountain Refuge—then you are standing on a solid Foundation, one that will never be shaken or destroyed during perilous times, even when God shakes up the whole universe at his coming.

When Abraham was tested, his faith was not shaken, for he “looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.” In times of trials and sufferings, David’s refuge and foundation is God, for he was looking forward to beholding God’s face.

When you are tested and are suffering, do you flee to God as your refuge and look forward to seeing his face in his holy mountain?

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