Summary: how God was Luther’s and is our Fortress in times of trouble
November 4, 2001 Psalm 46
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. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. Selah 4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. 5 God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. 7 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah 8 Come and see the works of the LORD, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He 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." 11 The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah (NIV)
Every year we sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God” at Reformation time. This is one of my favorite songs to sing. I would venture to bet that if you’ve been a Lutheran your whole life, you love it too. Why is that? If you think about it, it certainly wouldn’t be a hit by today’s standards. It’s rhythms are all messed up. And the whole idea of a “fortress” is foreign to our thinking. We might say, “a mighty semi automatic machine gun is our God,” but the “fortress” idea - there aren’t any castles or real fortresses around here. Yet for some reason, we love this song. Why? A part of it is because we’ve sang it ever since we were knee high to a grasshopper. But there’s more to it, isn’t there. There’s history behind this song. On this Reformation Sunday, we’re going to look at the history as to why this song was written. And we’re going to see why this song is so important to us. Today we’ll find out what is so special about the song,
A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
I. We need a Mighty Fortress because we are being attacked
This song is special first and foremost because it’s based on God’s Word. Luther used Psalm 46 to write it. The references to God as a “fortress” are made throughout the psalm. “The God of Jacob is our fortress” is repeated in vs. 7 and vs. 13. Think about how important the idea of a “fortress” was back in the Old Testament. The Old Testament was full of bloody wars - as the Psalm says, “nations are in uproar.” In order to protect themselves from these wars, they would build walls along the outside of the city. Without these walls, cities were helpless against the invasion of the enemy. If you have seen pictures of Jerusalem, you will notice immediately that it had a wall around it. Most prominent cities were literal “fortresses” with walls around it. Israel used to be a prime location for traffic from the south to the north. Most of the trading had to go through it, and it was a good country. Therefore, Israel was constantly being attacked. They knew they needed a “fortress” to keep them safe.
Luther found comfort in this Psalm, because he knew what it was like to be under attack. If you remember the history of Luther, he was brought up to believe that the “righteousness of God” meant that he had to obey all of God’s laws to be acceptable in His sight. Day in and day out he felt the attacks of a guilty conscience because he couldn’t purge himself of the sinful thoughts and guilt that God’s law gave him. He only thought of God as a God of wrath, who only judged and condemned people. But then God brought Luther to the light, as he showed him Habakkuk 2:4 - the just shall live by his faith. Suddenly Luther came to the realization that his salvation was not based on how good of a person God made him, but only on what Jesus did for him - on God’s declaration of forgiveness in Christ! At that moment, the devil, the pope, and every enemy of God lost their grip on Luther’s soul, and immediately became his enemy.
So from that point on, Luther was under attack from a different source. When Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Castle Church, the pope sent Cardinal Cajetan and Dr. Eck to get Luther to recant. Even the emperor declared Luther an outlaw, meaning that anyone could kill him after twenty days. Since Luther had experienced the attack of the enemy, he felt a need to have God as a fortress for protection. That’s why this Psalm was special to him.