A Sermon on Psalm 1 by Richard Keith on 18 March 2018
Cootamundra calls itself the gateway to the Riverina. And Yanco has a sign that proclaims itself the gateway to the MIA. This word “gateway” means that the town is some kind of entrance, a door leading in to the wonders within.
This morning we are looking at the very first psalm. Psalm number 1. Numero Uno. The gateway to the Psalms. The Psalm that guides us to understand all the Psalms. This gateway, this entrance, begins with two ways, with two alternative roads. But it ends with only one way leading anywhere.
Verse 1 begins, “Blessed is the man.” The man, whoever he is, is blessed. It means that he is happy. But it is more than just a temporary feeling of happiness. It means that he has a deep and permanent joy that cannot be undermined by suffering or eroded away by disappointment. He is blessed.
But you don’t have to tell a happy man that he is happy. He knows it. He already feels it. You only have to tell a man he’s blessed if in some way he can’t see it for himself. So when the Scriptures call a man blessed it often goes on to explain how and why. In order to open our eyes to find this deep hidden joy for ourselves.
Psalm 1 tells us who is blessed by contrasting in the first two verses two different ways, two different paths in life. Firstly, it tells us the path the blessed man doesn’t take.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
Verse 1 describes the conscious life of the happy man. The deliberate choices that he must avoid to be truly blessed. He does not walk or stand or sit in a certain way. The blessed man must not only avoid a certain series of isolated actions. But he must also avoid a certain lifestyle and a certain frame of mind. He must watch the friends he makes and the habits he adopts.
He is blessed if he does not walk according to the counsel of the wicked. To walk according to someone’s counsel means to take their advice. It means to do what they say. They, in this case, are the wicked. The wicked are no ordinary sinners. Of course, sin is always serious. It is as impossible to have a small, tolerable level of sin, as it is to have a mild case of gangrene. Every sin is mortal. Every sin is terminal.
But the wicked are more. The wicked are criminal. They lie and cheat and steal. They do it on purpose in order to hurt. They belong in jail. So what is their counsel? What is their advice? Look after number one. Take what you can. Do whatever you have to get ahead. Kill or be killed. These are the values of the wicked. This is their counsel.
As well as rejecting this counsel, the man who is blessed will not stand in the way of sinners. To stand in the way of a sinner is to associate with them. It is to share fellowship with them. It is more than just being friendly or socialising. It means sharing their concerns. It means not only following their advice but adopting their attitude. It means participating in their journey of rebellion. Ultimately, it means taking the risk of absorbing their values. To stand in the way of sinners is more than just taking the devil’s advice. It means becoming his friend.
And the man who is blessed will not sit in the seat of mockers. To sit in someone’s seat in this way is to join them. It is to become one of them. A mocker may not sin as outrageously as the wicked or as habitually as the sinner, but because of his slander and blasphemy against God and his people, his heart is the furthest from the kingdom. Mockers undermine the faith of others and lead them away from the truth.
Like celebrity atheists like Richard Dawkins, they may be good people. They aren’t criminals. They are good neighbours. Their public criticism of the church and of faith can even help Christians be more precise about what they believe and more consistent in their behaviour and choices. But we shouldn’t want to become like them.
This is the way that the man who wants to be blessed must avoid. The other way, the alternative path, is revealed in verse 2.
“His delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.”
The other way, the second path begins where the first path does but it goes in a different direction. Where the first path walks in the counsel of the wicked, the second path walks in the counsel of the Lord. The Lord is our creator. He has made us to know him and to love him and to serve him. And his will for our life is revealed in his law. Others seek his will in the pattern of the stars. Others try to discern the signs and omens of the hundred minor events that fill our day. But the happy man, the man who is blessed seeks the Lord’s will in his law.
When the Old Testament refers to the law, it means more than just the commandments. Thou shalt and thou shalt not. Do. Do not. Black and white. But the law of the Lord also refers to his instructions. It includes his promise of life to his people. It includes his call for them to live a holy and blameless life. It includes as well the example of patriarchs. Of those who chose wisely. Who trusted God. Who obeyed his will. As well as the example of those who did not believe and did not obey and what happened to them as a result. The Lord’s instruction includes the wisdom of the Proverbs and the warnings of the prophets. It doesn’t just require a blind obedience. “Do what I say or else”. It requires a personal choice, the decision of faith to absorb the values of God. Honesty. Justice. Generosity. Faithfulness. Integrity.
To acquire these the blessed man meditates on the Scriptures. He reads them. He thinks about them. He applies them in a practical way to his life. He lives by them. It is not an onerous duty imposed by an uncaring God. But it is his delight. The Lord’s instruction brings him joy. For by them he is happy, and he is truly blessed.
Verses 3 and 4 tease out the blessing that comes from the law of the Lord with a comparison between the result of taking the two different paths. The man who meditates on the law of the Lord is like a tree. He is not like a weed that springs up today and is gone tomorrow. He is not like a grass that germinates in spring and withers in the heat of summer. He is like a tree. Not temporary, but long living. And not just like any tree that shoots up haphazardly in the middle of a field and depends on the rain from passing showers. No, he is like a tree planted deliberately by streams of water that is fed by the rain falling far away which provides continuous dependable nourishment. This tree’s leaves never fall because of drought and they provide a harvest of fruit at the right time.
What the psalm is trying to say with this illustration is summed up in the last line of verse 3: Whatever he does prospers. It is not because he is being rewarded for living a good life, like if you come to church your business will make a profit. It means that living by the Lord’s instruction leads to success. The Lord’s instruction, his word, is our life. It brings life. It leads to the right kind of life. It’s not just about reading the Bible. It’s about meditating on its truth. Memorizing its words. Thinking about them. Applying them to our daily lives. It’s about being rooted in the wisdom of the Scriptures. Soaking it up. Being nourished by God’s Word. Because living by his wisdom, putting the Lord’s values into practice, absorbing his values of kindness and grace and truthfulness lead to the truly fruitful life. And infectious life. A life that brings joy not only to the person who lives by it but also to the lives of others.
It does not mean that trouble will never come. The blessed man is not free from suffering. But he lives according to his maker’s instructions. His life is so rooted in the will of God revealed in the Scriptures nourished and fed by them that the greatest misfortune will not sweep him away. He will stand because the Lord will make him stand.
The life that follows the path of the wicked leads to very different results. They are not like a tree. They are not like grass. They are not like a weed. They are like chaff. They are like the husk that surrounds the grain on its stalk and the header comes along at harvest time and cuts the stalk and beats the head so that the grain falls safely and is stored away and the husk, the chaff is thrown out the back and blows away. It is dry. It is lifeless. It is discarded. It is not fruitful, because it is what’s left when you’ve taken the fruit away.
It is a cliché that says that crime doesn’t pay. But there are few rewards for a life of violence and cheating and stealing. It not only ruins the lives of hundreds and thousands of people. But it ruins the life that lives that way. It may deliver a few brief highs like a child drinking red cordial. But it also brings with it a lasting sense of emptiness and regret. The life of the wicked creates nothing. It achieves nothing. It produces nothing. It can only destroy what others have made. The life of the wicked provides nothing useful or worth having and it ultimately leads nowhere.
This is the point of the last contrast in verses 5 and 6.
The wicked will not stand in the judgment nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
The judgment is the day of sifting. When the lives of all are measured. And the lives of the wicked are found wanting. They do not stand. Like flimsy houses built on faulty foundations they come crashing down when they are shaken. They are not gathered in to the fellowship of God’s people. They do not live to enjoy the eternal benefits of the kingdom. And all the wealth and temporary glory that they have collected in life turns to dust and ashes.
On the contrary,
the Lord watches over the way of the righteous.
They are not perfect. But they have been made right with God. They have avoided the path of the wicked and have lived by faith according to the promises and commandments of the Lord. And the path has taken them home to their Maker.
(26) Or as the Lord Jesus said,
“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”
The gate is small because the gate itself is the Lord. There are many so-called gods and many lords and heroes in whom people put their trust. But there is only one true and living God. And there is only one Lord of lords. So there are many gates. But only one narrow gate that opens the way to the path that leads to life. To enter through the gate to life is to trust in Jesus Christ. He is the Word of God on which the blessed man delights to meditate. And his good news is the law of the Lord. It is him that the Scriptures reveal. And it is his life that forms the path to God.
This morning we have looked at Psalm number 1. The Psalm of psalms. The gateway to all the psalms. Because by it we are led to understand the purpose of all the psalms. Many people have their favourite psalms. Hymns of praise or of trust in God. But Psalm 1 teaches us that the purpose of all the psalms is that we might find the path to life. For it begins with two paths: the right way and the wrong way. But it ends with only one. The path of righteousness that follows in the footsteps of Christ. Find that way in Christ, take it and follow it. And you will be truly blessed.