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The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew
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July 26, 2021 2:00 am


The Voice of Sovereign Grace / Doug Agnew

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July 26, 2021 2:00 am

Listen as Pastor Eugene Oldham preaches a sermon called -Reorientation- from Psalm 73. For more information, please visit

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Please turn with me tonight to Psalm 73, as we spend a few moments this evening allowing God's Word to instruct us and shape our attitudes towards life and circumstances and eternity. Psalm 73, we'll read it in its entirety. A Psalm of Asaph.

Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped, for I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pains until death, their bodies are fat and sleek. They're not in trouble as others are, they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore, pride is their necklace, violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness, their hearts overflow with follies, they scoff and speak with malice. Loftly, they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth. Therefore, his people turn back to them and find no fault in them. And they say, how can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High? Behold, these are the wicked, always at ease.

They increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long, I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.

If I had said, I will speak thus, I would have betrayed the generation of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God. Then I discerned therein.

Truly, you set them in slippery places. You make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors.

Like a dream when one awakes, oh Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms. When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, I was brutish and ignorant. I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you. You hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel. And afterward, you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you?

And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. For behold, those who are far from you shall perish.

You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. But for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Lord God my refuge that I may tell of all your works. Let's pray. Holy Spirit, would you open our eyes tonight to behold wonderful things from your word.

I pray in Jesus' name, amen. Our wisdom consists almost entirely of two parts. The knowledge of God and of ourselves. For no man can survey himself without immediately turning his thoughts towards the God in whom he lives and moves. Because it is perfectly obvious that the blessings which we possess cannot possibly be from ourselves. Those blessings which unceasingly pour down from heaven are like streams conducting us to the fountain. Here again, the infinite goodness of God becomes more apparent from our poverty.

In particular, the miserable ruin into which the revolt of the first man has plunged us compels us to turn our eyes upwards. We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God. Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.

Thus begins the Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin's magnum opus on the Protestant Reformed faith. And its starting point is that our first step toward God involves a recognition that something is not right in our souls, something is amiss. The knowledge of sin leads to a knowledge of God. Paul makes the very same point in Romans 7. Sin produces death in me in order that I might see the sinfulness of sin and by that be driven in desperation to Christ.

But there's a dilemma here. The very sin nature that makes me miserable enough to seek after God also skews my opinion of myself. That sin nature drives us to evaluate our own moral state in reference to the moral state of other people. And there's always someone more immoral, more wicked, more sinful than I am. And so rather than driving me to God, my sin nature oftentimes entrenches me even deeper in my own sin and misery.

I become so preoccupied with everyone else's wickedness that I fail to see my own condition. Sometimes this distorted thinking goes even further and we begin to get embittered toward God over the fact that people who by our estimation are worse sinners than we are have more of the stuff of this world than we do. How can God be so unfair we think?

Doesn't he know that I'm not as bad as that person over there who he keeps blessing with health and wealth and prosperity? The problem is we're measuring the sinfulness of sin by the wrong standard. And as a result, we begin to misjudge all sorts of circumstances and people by the wrong standard.

We eventually begin to even misperceive the very purposes and character of God. The psalmist in Psalm 73 is dealing with this very thing, this tendency of sinful people to evaluate life and self and other people and even God himself by the wrong standard, to view life through the lens of our own interpretation of our circumstances rather than through the lens of God's unchanging truth. And so we, like the psalmist, need to learn to see life from the perspective of God's sanctuary. We need a reorientation in which truth, rather than circumstance, governs our minds. Where God's assessment, rather than my assessment, governs our heart. Where heaven, rather than this world system, governs my actions.

We need a giant reset button that puts life back into proper perspective. And that's exactly what Psalm 73 is. So let's spend a few moments tonight walking together through this marvelous song together. It begins with a dilemma in verses one through three. The psalmist is a confessional Christian who knows God and knows that God is good. In fact, he says as much in verse one. Truly God is good to Israel.

To such as are pure in heart. Now this acknowledgement of God's goodness is not merely saying that God does good things for his people. It's saying that his people view him as good.

They view him as something to be treasured. It would be like me saying, Krispy Kreme donuts are good to me. I don't mean that Krispy Kreme donuts do good things to me. That they treat me well. I mean, I like them.

They are good to my mouth. God is good to his people. Yes, and that he does good things to them. But the psalmist's opening confession is an acknowledgement that God's people view him as good.

They view him as desirable, as something to be delighted in. And they view God in this way because he says their hearts are pure. This means they are devoted without reservation, body and soul, to God and God alone.

So put together these clauses from verse one. They're saying that those who are wholly devoted to God enjoy him. Those who are wholly devoted to God view him as a blessing. Their very devotion to God shapes their perspective and attitudes towards him.

Now this is going to be the key to the whole psalm. My attitude towards God, my posture toward him and his truth are what establish my contentedness in life far more than do my circumstances. Our posture toward God, how we view his character, how we interpret his interaction with us is the greatest determining factor in shaping our interpretation of the circumstances of life. If God is good, then whatever happens to me circumstantially is an expression of that goodness. But if on the other hand, God merely does good things for me from time to time, then my confidence in the goodness of God will wax and wane every time I have an unexpected bill or a flat tire. If God is absolutely and immutably good, then he's good when everything around me is going to hell in a handbasket. He's good even when the wicked seem to have the upper hand.

He's good even when arrogant haters of God seem to be able to sin with impunity. If in my mind, the goodness of God's character is tied to the visible circumstances that happen in a fallen world, then every time those unbelieving masses get away with sin and are even prospering in it, I begin to doubt God's justice to the wicked and his goodness to the righteous. And it makes me like the psalmist vulnerable to the temptation of envying the wicked, verse three. Now that's a very honest confession there in verse three on the part of the psalmist, being envious of the wicked. When we think about professing Christians toying with apostasy, toying with the idea of walking away from the faith, we often associate that struggle, I think, with intellectual dilemmas. How can a God of love allow so much evil? How could Jesus have risen from the dead? How can I believe in a God I can't even see?

These are the kinds of stumbling blocks that seem most common, intellectual, mental stumbling blocks. But here the psalmist readily admits that his temptation to leave God came down to a desire for all the stuff that wicked, arrogant sinners get to enjoy. He doesn't even couch this confession in some sort of self-justifying concern for justice or fair retribution. He simply wanted the perks that wicked people were enjoying. Notice also that he made this judgment of what the wicked were enjoying solely on the basis of what he saw with his eyes.

I was envious when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. Again, our posture towards the Lord determines whether we will live by faith or by sight. Isaiah 11 three says of the godly person, his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide disputes by what his ears hear.

When we live by sight, things just don't add up. When we live by faith, we have the capacity to wait on the Lord until he settles all accounts. I'm sure we can all identify with the psalmist's dilemma. We face the same temptations to walk by sight rather than by faith, to evaluate God's goodness by circumstance rather than by truth. And so we're vulnerable, like the psalmist, to envying what wicked people who ignore God get to enjoy every day. Christian young people perhaps observe their unbelieving friends, ignoring biblical principles of marriage and sexual purity, and yet those unbelievers seem to find romantic happiness with ease while Christian singles who are trying their best to honor God's moral principles are lonely and overlooked. Moms perhaps might panic about the advancement of their children socially, academically, economically, while their unbelieving friends who give no thought to instilling Christian values and godly character into their kids seem to be wildly successful in raising their kids.

In the workplace, perhaps we can't help noticing that our colleagues who ignore integrity and get away with it are often the ones who are promoted and compensated for their dishonesty while we just slave away diligently and honestly at our desks, underpaid and underappreciated. Where is God in all of this? Why is He letting this happen?

Doesn't He see what's going on? We're the ones trying to honor God and yet they're the ones getting all the perks. And so our faith stumbles over the prosperity of the wicked. From verse four all the way down to verse 12 then, the psalmist is obsessing over the prosperity of the wicked. He's trying to justify his envious heart by concentrating on how undeserving the wicked and arrogant really are.

We do that sometimes, don't we? We excuse the seriousness of our own sin by pointing out how much everybody else is sin, how bad it is. Verse four, he notices that the wicked go their entire lives with no pain. Verse five, they never seem to get caught like everyone else. They're not stricken like the rest of mankind.

They just get away with everything. Instead of receiving retribution for their wicked ways, they actually have an overabundance of stuff. Verse four, their bodies are fat. Verse seven, their eyes swell with fatness. And you'd think all this leniency they're receiving from God, all this abundance would produce at least a modicum of gratitude and humility. But no, verse six, pride is their necklace. Violence covers them as a garment. Verse eight, they scoff and speak hateful words of malice. They actually use their undeserved wealth and power to threaten oppression on others.

And it doesn't even stop there. These wicked people are so arrogant, so haughty, so full of themselves that they even blaspheme heaven. Verse 11, they say, how can God know?

Is there knowledge in the Most High? These people are not worth the ground they're standing on. God ought to strike them dead where they sit. And yet, verse 12, they're always at ease and somehow still increasing in riches. Now what's ironic about the whole thing is that the very pleasures that are making the psalmist envious of these wicked people are the same things that are producing this arrogance and haughtiness that the psalmist so despises. Had he gotten what he is envious of, he would have also gotten the corruption of character that goes with it.

The character that he himself is condemning. By the time we get to verse 13, the psalmist is in a full-blown pity party. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.

For all the day long, I have been stricken and rebuked every morning. As I read that, it reminded me a lot of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son, doesn't it? Remember how when the prodigal son repented and returned home, his father killed the fatted calf to celebrate, but the older brother's response was very telling. Says he answered his father, look, these many years I have served you and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.

Wah, wah, wah. What we need to see is that this attitude of discontentment and resentment has the appearance of being directed at wicked people, but it's really a resentment toward God. God, how dare you ignore my virtue?

How dare you reward someone else's vice when I've been so good? Now, there's several things wrong with this way of thinking. First of all, it assumes that my virtue is somehow worthy of God's attention and reward. The psalmist complains in verse 13, in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.

But what person can honestly say that their heart is clean and their hands are innocent? Neither the psalmist nor the older brother in the parable, nor you, nor I, can sincerely say that we are in and of ourselves clean and innocent before God. Now, we may not be as wicked as an atheist, but that's like a ladybug telling a cockroach, I'm not as insecty as you.

The ladybug may not be as gross, but it's still a bug. My rebellion may not be as defiant as an atheist, but I'm still a rebel, I'm still a sinner, and any virtue I may possess is present solely by the grace of God in me. Secondly, this line of thinking that resents God for his forbearance of the wicked has a faulty view not only of self, but also of the wicked. The psalmist says in verse 12, the wicked are always at ease.

They increase in riches, but that's simply not true, is it? There will come a day when the wickedness of the wicked will catch up with them. I'll say more about that in a minute, but to think that the wicked are always at ease is really to accuse God of injustice. It's to forget that God is just and judge of all people. To think that sinners will simply get away with it is to believe that God is slack, concerning his promises, it is to deny his long-suffering tolerance of sinners for a time for the sake of his elect. When we resent God for not punishing the arrogant, we're resenting the very forbearance that affords us an opportunity to repent. The wicked say in verse 11, how can God know?

Is there knowledge in the Most High? The wicked say in verse 11, how can God know? But when Christians despise God for not judging the wicked more quickly, we are laying the same charge at God's feet, we're insinuating, God, you don't even know how wicked the wicked have been.

Of course he knows, and of course he will render judgment in his time and in his way, and to suggest otherwise is simply wrongheaded on our part. The psalmist wanted what the wicked had, he was driven by envy, but rather than acknowledge his sin and repent of it, he tried to justify it by couching it in words of self-righteous indignation against the wicked, which were really words of indignation about the forbearance and long-suffering of God. You know, church, anger towards the wicked can be legitimate, righteous anger, but I think Psalm 73 warns us that it could also simply be resentment toward God for the way he has ordered the circumstances of my life, and we have a dozen different ways of masking that and excusing it away and justifying it.

At the end of the day, when we do this, we're adopting the same attitude as the arrogant reprobate who says, how can God know? Well, this brings us to the good part of Psalm 73, where we see God begin to correct the perspective of the psalmist. God orients his child, reorients his child, so that he can see life from heaven's point of view, and it makes all the difference in the world. Verse 16, but when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task until I went into the sanctuary of God.

Then I discerned therein. Now, before we look at the particulars of this reorientation, I want us to take note of how this change in the psalmist's heart begins to happen. The very first indication of a change of heart appears in verse 15. It says, if I had said I will speak thus, I would have betrayed the generation of your children. Now, that's kind of an obscure, weird sounding verse.

What does it mean? Well, the psalmist has just confessed to feeling like God isn't paying attention, to feeling like he's rewarding wickedness and he's overlooking righteousness. Those are some pretty serious charges to bring against God. And so in verse 15, he admits that he dare not speak openly of these thought processes, lest he ruin the faith of future generations of covenant children. He's saying to himself, I'm feeling this deep resentment toward God, but I can't talk about it out loud because it could really damage the Christians around me.

Now, that's an interesting admission, isn't it? Because it shows us that even though there is an intellectual dilemma going on in the psalmist's mind, there is a moral barricade of sorts in his conscience that won't allow him to spew his doubts out of his mouth at the expense of the rest of the covenant community. You see, this change of heart is moral before it is mental or intellectual. The psalmist is engaging in some very intense soul searching concerning his faith, but in the process, he's not willing to shipwreck his faith and the faith of others by ignoring his conscience as he struggles. He's concerned for his testimony before other Christians. His personal crisis of faith is kept in check by his love for and participation in the larger covenant community. Brothers and sisters, this is one of the reasons we need the church. We need the fellowship with each other as we spur one another on in the faith.

It helps temper our responses to the ups and downs of life. And so the psalmist's frustration with life and circumstance is kept at bay by his participation in the body of Christ. It's also kept at bay by the fact that he is engaged in worship.

Notice it's in the sanctuary of God where his doubts and confusion begin to subside. This goes back to what I said earlier about how our posture before the Lord is such an important influence in shaping our attitudes and perspectives on life. You see, for the psalmist, God is not an object of speculation.

He is a creator to be worshiped. And it's this posture, a posture of reverence and submission that enables the psalmist to learn from God and be reoriented towards the ways of God. God is, to the psalmist, a good God.

And so the wearisome task of understanding why the wicked prosper becomes a doable task. We come into verse 18 and the tone of the psalm changes. The psalmist begins speaking directly to God in the second person, not about God. And he begins to confess the truths that he has learned in God's presence. He says, truly you set the wicked in slippery places.

You make them fall to ruin how they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors. And all of a sudden his perspective has changed and the wicked are not so enviable anymore. Verses 18 through 20, I think are describing eternal damnation. These arrogant, evil boasters who enjoyed sin for a season come to full and irreversible ruin in the end. As God says to them, I never knew you.

Depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. But by contrast to that divine judgment on the wicked, the psalmist begins to meditate on the divine blessings that are his by virtue of his belonging to God. And notice how these blessings of divine favor emphasize the closeness, the nearness of God. Verse 23, you hold my right hand. Verse 24, you guide me with your counsel. Even after death, verse 24, you receive me to glory. Verse 26, God is my portion forever. I've not mentioned who the psalmist is, but the title of Psalm 73 attributes the psalm to Asaph.

Asaph was a musician and a leader of musicians during the reign of King David. He was a Levite. And you'll remember that when Israel took possession of the land of Canaan, the tribe of Levi was not given an allotment of land like the other tribes. Instead, they were given the privilege and responsibility of being priests of the Lord. And so God told them that their allotment, their portion would be God himself.

You don't get land, God told the Levites, you get me. I am your portion. So in a very literal and temporal sense, God was Asaph's portion. God was his rich reward, his precious treasure, his unparalleled wealth. In a spiritual and eternal sense, we, the church, are a royal priesthood. And God is our portion, our rich reward, our precious treasure. Well, Asaph began his song with envy in his heart toward the wicked, but when he realizes what true wealth and prosperity entail, he repented of his envy and bitterness of soul, and began to bask in the exclusive joy of belonging to God. The psalm begins with the statement in verse two, but as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, but it ends with the statement in verse 28, but as for me, it is good to be near God. But as for me, it is good to be near God. God is enough.

Before, he had to keep his thoughts to himself. Last, verse 15, he derailed the faith of those around him, but now he can openly and publicly tell of all God's works, because God is enough. As we wrap up this meditation on Psalm 73 tonight, let me just briefly share some thoughts about a way of practical application. First of all, psalms exist to be sung. The first application of any psalm is to sing it. Find a good setting of Psalm 73 and sing it.

That's how we're supposed to use these poems. Yes, we can read them and study them and outline them, but we also need to sing them, because that's why God gave us these psalms. Also, I think a significant lesson to be learned from Psalm 73 in particular, is that the fellowship of the saints is incredibly important. The fellowship of the saints, the church, is incredibly important. The hinge that began to turn Asaph's heart in the right direction was his thoughts about how his sinful attitudes would affect the covenant community.

And the reorienting light came on for Asaph while he was engaged in corporate worship. Folks, we need each other. We need what we're doing right now. That's why the author of Hebrews says, let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another and all the more as you see the day drawing. I know I'm preaching to the choir at Sunday night and here you are. But don't ever forget, we need the communion of saints. God's glory on earth depends on it. Are we taking full advantage of this means of grace? Finally, I would say that if your feet are stumbling in the same direction that Asaph's feet were stumbling, if you're so annoyed or jealous or angry at the success and prosperity of the wicked, that you're beginning to lose a sense of the eternal weight of glory that is yours in Christ, then stop and contemplate the perishing of the wicked.

Let the reality of hell mortify your envy of those who will spend their eternity there. But also contemplate the reward of the righteous. If you are in Christ, then God is your portion. If God is your portion, then I can't even describe the joyful eternity that's in store for you.

The apostle John tried to describe it. He said in Revelation 21, then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, and I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride, adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more. Neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

I will be his God, for I will be his God, and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God, the Almighty, and the Lamb, but nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.

They will see his face. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever and ever and ever. Why would we envy what the wicked have? We have God, and God has us.

Let's pray. Lord, thank you for Psalm 73. May its truths permeate our affections and minds this week, and cause us to find new delight in you. God, would you reorient our thought processes and our desires so that we would be able to see clearly how foolish it is to envy vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, so that we might be able to see how gracious you are to have made us vessels of mercy prepared for glory. God, you are our portion, and it is enough. And it is enough. We thank you in Christ's name. Amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-09-20 02:23:33 / 2023-09-20 02:35:58 / 12

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