Recently my husband and I took one of our grandsons to the Miramar Air Show. I should rephrase that to read, we “took one of our grandsons to swelter” at the Miramar Air Show. I don’t know exactly what the temperature was on the flight line, but my guess is somewhere in the neighborhood of ninety-plus degrees. We baked –without shade, without relief, for hours. And as much as we love the air show, I have to admit we were all pretty miserable.
While there I noticed something I’d never seen before. In order to shelter themselves from that blistering sun, people were crowded under the shadow of the wings of a massive C130. Some were sitting on the ground, others had beach chairs, but they were all seeking shade. It was a beautiful analogy and as I pondered it, it became even more glorious.
Most of us are familiar with the passages in Psalms that speak of our hiding ourselves in the same way:
"Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings" (Ps. 61:4).
"Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence, my deadly enemies who surround me" (Ps. 17:8-9).
In these passages and others like them (Ps. 57:1; 91:4), we see the Lord as the One who protects us from harm. When utter ruin or malicious enemies would destroy us, we can hide under His defending arms and know that our souls will be safe. When the blistering sun of trials make our hearts faint, we can find sweet relief in the Lord’s presence. In fact, we can find more than relief, we can find joy, “for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy” (Ps. 63:7). We’re not simply hiding there, cowering, holding our breath until the danger passes. No, we’re singing for joy because we’re so secure. But that’s not all.
In his commentary on Galatians, Luther employs this metaphor in another way . . . a way that, quite frankly, I’d never considered. He writes, "But I am covered under the shadow of Christ’s wings . . . and I live without fear under that wide banner of the forgiveness of sins that is spread over me. Therefore, God covers and pardons the remnant of sin in me; that is, because of the faith with which I began to lay hold upon Christ, he accepts my imperfect righteousness as perfect righteousness and counts my sin as no sin, even though it is indeed sin . . . So we shroud ourselves under the covering of Christ’s flesh. He is our pillar of cloud by day and our pillar of fire by night, lest God should see our sin."
Can you see how this changes the metaphor? That threatening sun isn’t only foreign enemies or terrible trials from without. It is God’s wrath at my sin and the wings that shelter me from it is Christ’s own body. He suffered in the Father’s inferno–received His wrath in His own flesh–was scorched in the blast furnace that my unbelief and selfishness had fueled. Now that I am safely anchored under those dear wings, I can be confident that He’ll keep me. Or as the pastor to the Hebrews wrote, “We who have fled for refuge [under His wings have] strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us” (Heb. 6:18).
So, although we may face trial and difficulty today we can know with certainty that we’re completely hidden from the scorching wrath our sin deserves. We have a strong encouragement because we know that what He has done in sheltering us today will continue forever! John writes,
"Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev. 7:15-17).