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Pentecost 16, “Trust in God’s Goodness”

Pastor Gary Wong, September 23, 2020

Psalm 37:12-24

12 The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; 13 but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. 14 The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. 15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken. 16 Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; 17 for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous. 18 The days of the blameless are known to the LORD, and their inheritance will endure forever. 19 In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty. 20 But the wicked will perish: The LORD's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish - vanish like smoke. 21 The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; 22 those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off. 23 If the LORD delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; 24 though he stumble, he will not fall, for the LORD upholds him with his hand.

We don’t live in a perfect world. And while there is a lot of good, there’s also a lot of bad. We also know that even as we work hard and try to do our best, things aren’t always going to go the way we think they should. We’re usually OK with that; but sometimes being content is easier said than done. One thing that can cause discontent is when we compare our lives and what we have to show for striving to live a God pleasing life with the lives of people who don’t believe in the triune God. It‘s frustrating when people who openly lie, cheat, and steal flourish and are seemingly rewarded for their sin, while God-fearing people suffer. The more that evil people prosper, the more frustrated we become and are tempted to lash out, “It’s not fair! If unbelievers can get away with sinning, what’s the use of trying to be good? I might as well act like the wicked so I can get what I can for myself!” God’s Word, however, encourages us to stay the course and walk in the light of the gospel. Today’s lesson encourages us to trust in God’s goodness and justice. Knowing that God loves us helps us to be content with our blessings, while his grace moves and empowers us to live godly lives to his glory.

In Psalm 37, King David compares the lives of the righteous and the wicked. As we take a closer look at this portion of Scripture, it’s as though David is describing life in America in 2020 rather than the conditions in Israel some three thousand years ago. Then as now, many wicked people were prospering while God’s people were not; worse yet, the wicked were exploiting the poor, the weak and the helpless. Not only had the ungodly stomped on the downtrodden to get their ill-gotten gains, they were kicking them while they were down! So, what specifically were they doing against God’s people? “The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them …[they] draw the sword … to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are right …The wicked borrow and do not repay” (Psalm 37:12,14,21).

What parallels do we see in our day? More and more, Christians are being persecuted and even murdered for their faith. We see big corporations like Walmart and Amazon earn record profits in the midst of a pandemic, while the average Joe and Jane, who are having their hours cut or even losing their jobs, struggle to pay their bills. When small businesses get in financial trouble, they face foreclosure while big corporations get government bailouts. It doesn’t seem fair when two of the richest Americans—Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, who each has a net worth of one hundred billion dollars—are self-professed agnostics. Now, that’s not to say that these two men got their wealth by dishonest means. We don’t begrudge the fact that these men are rich even though neither one would ever acknowledge that their wealth has come from the Lord. God has every right to choose whom he is going to bless. Jesus tells us that “[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and unrighteous” (Matt. 5:45).

Yet we can’t help but chafe and fret when it appears that God is favoring the ungodly and is blessing those who openly sin and mock him, while those who fear the Lord and serve him aren’t similarly blessed. We see God lending a helping hand to the wicked, yet he doesn’t seem to lift a finger to help his own people. To the contrary, it seems as though the hand of the Lord is pressing down on us. “That’s just not right!” we protest. “The wicked don’t deserve to be rewarded with prosperity; they should be punished. Since God’s enemies gnash their teeth at us in anger and defy God, their teeth should be bashed in. We can’t do anything about it; but Lord, you can. Why won’t you do something to make things right?”

When we start thinking that way, we need to step back and look at the situation in light of God’s Word. While those who oppose God and reject Jesus as Savior deserve to die and suffer in hell forever, we need to realize that we also deserve the same punishment. The Bible teaches that all of us were born enemies of God. Our sinful natures lead us to defy God at every opportunity in the things we think, say, and do. We do violence to God and his Word when we gossip about and slander our neighbors, coworkers, family or friends. We are cheating the Lord and our boss when we don’t put in an honest day’s work. We steal when we borrow and don’t pay back what we owe. Because of the sin we inherited and the countless sins we commit on a daily basis, we deserve to die and suffer in hell where there is endless weeping and gnashing of teeth.

That’s what we, and all of God’s enemies, deserve. Fortunately, God doesn’t treat us as we deserve; God did just the opposite. Rather than punishing us, he punished his one and only Son. In order to save us from the consequences of our sin, Jesus, who had no sin, became sin for us. Even though Jesus perfectly honored and served his heavenly Father, nor was there any deceit in his mouth, Jesus endured the violence of wicked men. For our sakes, Jesus was beaten and whipped, a crown of thorns was pressed down on his head; his hands and feet were nailed to a cross. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Jesus paid the debt we owed God by shedding his holy, precious blood. Moved by his grace and because of Jesus’ sacrifice, God gave us the priceless gift of forgiveness. Because of Jesus, we are now righteous in God’s sight. Through faith in Christ, we have life, salvation and a heavenly home.

Just as David describes the contrast between the righteous and the wicked in black and white terms, this psalm helps us see that the way God judges the righteous and the wicked is also as different as night and day. Yet, because we view the world in the here and now, we don’t always see that. This psalm helps us deal, in a very practical and God-pleasing way, with the injustices we see taking place. David tells us, “Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong” (Ps. 37:1). Why not? We needn’t fret about evildoers prospering now because their final outcome is everlasting destruction. Our all-seeing God knows what’s going on; he sees and hears the ungodly mock him and plot against him and his people.

So, what action does God take against these evildoers? He laughs! God, who cannot be mocked, is patient with these ungodly mockers because God is in control. Evil people may escape justice on this earth and may even prosper; but they will not escape the final judgment of hell. Our problem is that we want to see God punish them now! What’s more, we don’t want them to prosper while we suffer. David, however, reminds us of what will happen to those who reject Jesus: “like grass they will soon wither …the wicked will perish …they will vanish like smoke …for [God] knows their day is coming” (37:1,20,12). Therefore, we will leave the final judgment of the wicked to God. Meanwhile, let’s treat the ungodly with kindness, patience and love. Let’s repay evil with good so that the wicked might repent and be saved.

Knowing that God is dealing with evildoers helps us focus on our lives and not worry about anyone else. This psalm helps us be content with the blessings that God gives us. A lot of our discontent stems from the fact that we tend to focus more on how much (or little) stuff we have, and our unhappiness is compounded when we see that others, especially unbelievers, have more. First of all, God’s Word reminds us that earthly treasures are only temporary; what’s more, the Bible tells us that envy and coveting are sins. When we pray the fourth petition in the Lord’s Prayer and ask him to give us our daily bread, we trust God’s promise to provide for all of our physical needs. How can we doubt God’s goodness when the Bible tells us that he “is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine according to his power” (Eph. 3:20)? After all, God gave his Son through whom we have eternal life and a heavenly inheritance that can never be taken away. Since he has given us these priceless treasures, how can we doubt that he won’t supply all of our other needs as well? God promises that “in times of disaster [the righteous] will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty” (Ps. 37:19). Therefore, we can be content with the temporary treasures we have here on earth knowing that “our [heavenly] inheritance will last forever.”

Finally, this psalm motivates and empowers us to continue to live godly lives. As we see how the wicked seem to prosper, we might be tempted to live the lifestyle of the ungodly. Once again, David encourages us to take the long view even as we live in the present. The wicked can’t do that because their lives are completely tied to the things of this world. They do whatever it takes to get as much worldly wealth as they can and then expend a lot of energy trying to keep it. Sadly, the one thing they don’t have is peace of mind. You and I do because we have peace with God through Jesus. The gospel moves us to be generous in sharing our earthly treasures and most importantly, the greatest treasure of all, the good news of our Savior. God doesn’t promise that life for the righteous on earth is going to be easy. Yet, God promises that he will be with us every step of the way. David reminds us that God “makes [our] steps firm; though [we] stumble, [we] will not fall, for the LORD upholds [us] with his hand” (37:24).

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we don’t live in a perfect world. Injustice abounds. The wicked prosper while Christians suffer. Yet, knowing of God’s boundless love for us in giving us his Son, we trust in God’s goodness and justice. Knowing that we have a heavenly inheritance that can never be taken away helps us to be content here on earth. The gospel empowers us to continue to live a godly life until the blessed day when Jesus will bring us to our perfect home to heaven. Amen.

“Forgive Our Sins as We Forgive”

Text: Rosamond E. Herklots, 1905-87, alt.

“Forgive our sins as we forgive,”

You taught us, Lord to pray,

But you alone can grant us grace

To live the words we say,

How can your pardon reach and bless

The unforgiving heart

That broods in wrongs and will not let

Old bitterness depart?

In blazing light your cross reveals

The truth we dimly know;

What trivial debts are owed to us;

How great our debt to you!

Lord, cleanse the depths within our souls

And bid resentment cease;

Then, bound to all in bonds of love

Our lives will spread your peace.

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