“… who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8).
by Tim Pauls
Say the first half of Psalm 124:8, and a lot of Lutherans will automatically say the second. Thanks to a steady diet of pages 5 and 15 (now Divine Service 3) growing up, this is one of the first Scripture verses I ever learned by heart. I confess that I didn’t give it much thought at the time, though. At best, I thought it a rather banal verse, filler between the Invocation and the confession of sins.
Silly me. One of my “axioms to live by” has become “the liturgy contains no filler.” Everything is there for a reason.
Let’s look closely at the verse, starting with the Lord, who made heaven and earth back in Genesis 1. Before light is brought into being, what do you find? You have the Father who creates, the Son through whom all things are made (John 1:3) and the Spirit hovering over the face of the waters. Then God speaks.
In other words, creation begins with Father, Son and Holy Spirit, words and water.
Flash forward to the baptism of Jesus (Mark 1:9-11). As the Son comes up out of the water, the Holy Spirit descends on Him and the Father speaks: “You are My beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Father is pleased that the Son has just numbered Himself with sinners, that He’s making His way to the cross in their place.
At Jesus’s baptism, then, once again: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, words and water.
Leap ahead to April 30, 1967, to a little church in Des Moines, Washington, where a pastor says, “Timothy John, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” For the sake of the Son and by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Father says, “You are now My beloved son; for Jesus’ sake, I am well pleased with you.”
Look at that: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, words and water, once again. The same Triune God who created all things in the beginning has re-created me in Christ.
Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
We say it just after the invocation, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Worship begins with an incomplete sentence, a dependent clause without subject or verb. It’s helpful to think that the sentence began at the font with the words, “I baptize you.” Now, the rest of the sentence is completed each time the service begins: the Lord, who made heaven and earth, visits His people. He comes to renew them with grace, to strengthen the new creation He’s made them to be.
(That’s what makes the next exchange from Psalm 32:5 so startling: “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord.’” Are you crazy?! When you apply for a job, you would never list your greatest failures at the top of your resume. So wouldn’t you want to downplay your sins before God? Miraculously, no, because the verse continues, “And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.”)
Then we confess our sins and hear the absolution, that we’re forgiven in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit — the Lord, who made heaven and earth, who re-made us in Christ at the font.
In a world where disasters happen, tyrants threaten and princes fail, your help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He’s made you, re-created you, to be His by water and the Word; and rather than just promise a patched-up, better-but-still-faulty world, He promises a new heaven and a new earth. It’s yours because you’re baptized, united to Christ in His death and resurrection.
While the devil still antagonizes and accuses that your sins are unforgivable, your help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth — and who then went to the cross to crush the serpent’s head. Whose words are more reliable: the father of lies or the One who said, “I baptize you”?
When death blusters that it’s bigger than you, it’s true. But Easter proclaims that it’s no match for Jesus, who has joined you to Himself. Where He is, you will be also; and He isn’t in the grave anymore.
With the grace and life given in baptism, this becomes a miraculous truth in which you live: your help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth.
The Rev. Tim Pauls serves as pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Boise, Idaho.