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Frail as Summer’s Flower

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
February 7, 2024 3:00 am

Frail as Summer’s Flower

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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February 7, 2024 3:00 am

Death is an uncomfortable and scary topic that many of us would prefer to ignore in the hope that it will just go away. But find out why it’s necessary to keep our mortality in mind. Study along with us on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.


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Death is a topic that is uncomfortable, even frightening, something most of us would prefer to ignore, hoping it might go away. But today on Truth for Life, we'll find out why it's so necessary for us to keep our own mortality in mind.

Alistair Begg is teaching from the opening verses in Psalm 90. It appears to an end like a sigh the years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty, yet their span is but toil and trouble. They are soon gone, and we fly away.

Who considers the power of your anger and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long! Have pity on your servants. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us. Yes, establish the work of our hands.

Amen. The writer of Ecclesiastes says it is better to go to a funeral than a party, because the living should always remind themselves that death is waiting for us all. The living should always remind themselves. We have to be honest and say, quite honestly, it is the case that we by and large seek to avoid any thought of death at all, and particularly any notion of the prospect of our own death. So it is a fact that has to be faced, and face it, everyone eventually does. The point of Psalm 90 is that it is supposed to be faced by those who are living. Christopher Hitchen, my favorite atheist of all, the late Christopher Hitchen, tells of how he, unlike other men, discovered the reality of mortality, not with the death of his father, which people often say, when my father died, then I realized that my name was next on the list. Now, Hitchen says, quoting him, on filial as this may seem, that was not at all so in my case. It was only when I watched my son being born that I knew at once that my own funeral director had very suddenly, but quite unmistakingly, stepped onto the stage.

I was surprised by how calmly I took this, but also how reluctant I was to mention it. So here's the question. Why do we have to die at all?

And why does the prospect come around so quickly? Now, the 90th Psalm is not unique in this respect—it's part of a larger body—but nevertheless, it helps us answer that question with a very, very solid answer. It is routinely a funeral psalm.

I acknowledge that. In the Anglican Prayer book, it is one of the required readings, along with the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians. And often when it is read, and you will perhaps have heard it read, it is read in such a way that the difficult parts are removed by the minister or the pastor or the vicar. And so, for example, they will read, You sweep men away, as with a flood and a dream, and so on, and the poetry of it is all there. And then it drops down, The years of our life are seventy, or even by strength eighty. What it skips out is, We are brought to an end by your anger, by your wrath we are dismayed.

And so, hoping to try and, as it were—that's a strange thought, isn't it?—to try and clean the psalm up, you know, for the average twenty-first century listener or participant, the psalm is then, actually, the message of it is not simply obscured, it is completely destroyed. Often when you read the Bible, and perhaps you're wondering about the Bible and you've only begun to read it, and you're tempted to say, Well, I've got to read only the parts that aren't the difficult parts. The difficult parts are all the necessary parts. The difficult parts are all the good parts.

It is in those parts that you will find the greatest answers. And so, I think this morning you'll find that. What I want to do is just trace a line through this psalm. If your Bible is open, you will notice that it is a prayer of Moses, the man of God.

So we know who wrote it. Moses, who led the people out of Egypt, who led them in the wilderness, has penned this psalm somewhere along that journey. And he begins addressing God as the eternal and unchanging, immortal God. It's a wonderful beginning. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.

Now, think of that for just a moment. They had no dwelling place, did they? They had come out of Egypt, they were wandering in the wilderness, they were in a kind of tented facility, they were migrants, they were moving about here and there, they had the symbol of the presence of God among them in their camp. And so Moses says, We want to affirm the fact that you actually are our dwelling place. And if you are a believer today, God is your dwelling place.

Colossians 3. Your life is hid with Christ in God. Our citizenship is in heaven, and from there we await a Savior, and so on. So that our true identity, as we've been seeing in Ephesians, is that we have actually been lifted up and raised into the heavenly realms in Christ. And Moses is anticipating all of the fullness of that. When he gave his blessing to his people before he died—and you can read it in Deuteronomy 33— one of the parts of the blessing is to say to them, The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms. They're inevitably saying, Well, what's going to happen now when Moses, the man of God, is taken away?

He says, I want to commend you to God who is the everlasting God. He is the dwelling place through all generations. It's not going to end at this moment. It was so before, and it will be so afterwards. Now, this is what the Bible says. And man—that is, men and women—in our rebellion against God push back on what the Bible says. And so that even today, you will see sort of 21st-century evidences of the fact that man has decided that God's revelation of himself, although it is undeniable, is unacceptable, and what is far more acceptable is to believe what I want to believe and to apply my mind to it in that way.

Well, it doesn't alter the fact. So God is immortal. Before the mountains were brought forth, before you had ever formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting, you alone are God. That's the foundational piece. That's where it starts. That's why Calvin says, This is where man must start. We are tempted to begin with ourselves and then extrapolate to divinity. Calvin says, No, it is when we descend from a devout musing upon the Godhead that we then are able to understand ourselves and why we were made and to what purpose. Well, that is how Moses starts. God, you are immortal.

Second point, we are not. Look at verse three. You return man to dust, to dust. That's why in the funeral service, in the words of Committal, the minister will eventually say, and we now commit the body of our dear brother to the ground, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It is a reference to the early chapters of Genesis. On the day that you eat of this, you will surely die. From dust you came and to dust you will return.

And so he takes these metaphors, you see. You sweep them away as with a flood. What happens? It's like you just swept away on a flood. Or like a dream. Did I dream? Did I dream just now or was that last night? It was here and it was gone. The grass that looked so fresh and bright in the springtime looks so withered and dry now.

These are all the pictures. Even if we were to live for a thousand years—if you just let your eye go down—even if we were to live for a thousand years, then it's nothing. Because a thousand years is as a day in relationship to God. It's like somebody who has tons and tons and tons and tons and tons and tons of money.

A hundred dollar bill is nothing in comparison to all of that cash. Now, if you live to be a thousand, then that would be like three hours in God's time. Forty winks. And here's the deal. You're not going to live to be a thousand, and neither am I. So if you live to be seventy or maybe eighty, it isn't even five minutes. That's a life.

Gone. Now, why does the psalmist do this? Is this some kind of morbid introspection? Is Moses just having a really bad day and wants to just give everybody else a bad day? No, he is doing, under the direction of God's Spirit Himself, that which is necessary in order to bring foolish humanity to its senses. It runs the whole way through the Bible. Elsewhere in the Psalms, he says, show me, tell me how fleeting I am. My days are faster, says the prophet, than a weaver's shuttle. James says, my life is like a morning mist that peers for a little while and then vanishes away.

No, we can't escape this. Verse 10, the years of our life are seventy or even by reason of strength, eighty. Eighty. Now, some of you are actuarial people. You're in the insurance industry.

You use these actuarial tables. Now, and we know that life expectancy is different in the Western world than it was fifty years or a hundred years ago, but by and large, it's sure not pushing the limits, isn't it? And our attempt to say that seventy is the new fifty is just part of our ability to try and push it back as far as we can, because we don't like the numbers getting that close. We don't like walking through the cemetery now because the dates seem to be catching up with us.

It used to be easy. You say, oh, look at that, I can't imagine. Somebody was born in 1927.

Now they were born in 1949, 1951, 1952. Whoa, this is a little too close for comfort. And that's exactly what it's supposed to be. Death has not yet reached you, but let it shake the chains, rattle you, confront you, wound you in order to heal you, scare you in order to grant you security. Now, why do we have to die?

Why? From whence cometh death? The atheist has no answer.

The secularist has no explanation. The Bible has the answer. It's right here in verse seven. We are brought to an end by your anger, and by your wrath we are dismayed.

What is he saying? He's saying that death is the punishment for man's rebellion. Remember, in the garden, you mustn't do this, but in the day you do, you will definitely die. And death enters into the world through sin. And you don't need to simply stay in Psalm 90. Read the rest of your Bible. Read what Paul has to say, for example, in Romans chapter five.

Now, before recoiling from this, think it out. God, who is perfect, immutable, eternal, perfect in his justice, perfect in his wisdom, is not indifferent to man's rebellion. You don't want an indifferent God. You don't want cardiothoracic surgery from somebody who says, hey, what's an artery between friends? You want to make sure that that person knows what's in and knows what's out. Therefore, how could it possibly be that the eternal perfect creator of the universe would then say, oh, your rebellion doesn't matter.

It matters. And he dealt with it. And in the flood, he dealt with it. And in banishing them from the garden, he dealt with it.

And in the flood, he provided a way of escape. And in banishing them from the garden, he provided them clothing and covering for their nakedness, all ultimately pointing to the fact that death is dealt with in the provision of God's perfect Son. So God's settled reaction to man's rebellion has brought death into the world, and that notion is challenged, as we saw in Romans 1, not just by people in the street, but it's also challenged by pastors in their pulpits. Many a man who is apparently a teacher of the Bible does not really believe this stuff.

I say it to the shame of it all. But if we're going to hold to the Bible, we have to believe in it. The indignation of God is seen in the frustration and in the envy and in the decay and in the transience of our lives. And the settled reaction of God is revealed not only in the passing of time through our fingers, but in the reality of our guilt. Verse 8, you have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence.

Oh, here's the rub, isn't it? Here are the two great fears. The universal fear that underlies every fear is the fear of death.

That's why the Bible addresses it. And accompanying that and adding power to its terror is our personal awareness of guilt, that we know ourselves to be guilty. We know that there are things we ought not to have done.

We know that there are things we ought to have done. And judged by the standard of God's perfection, there's not a person, save God's own Son Jesus, that stands guiltless before the bar of his testimony. And it is before that God that we will eventually stand. So the idea that my iniquities have been set before him and my secret sins are known in the light of his presence, either I'm going to have to reckon with that, or I'm just going to have to do a cover-up. The Bible is so wonderfully clear. But here's the real question, isn't it? Verse 11, who considers the power of your anger and your wrath according to the fear of you?

In other words, who puts these two things together? By and large, people don't. People will say all kinds of things about death. Well, it's just inevitable, or it won't be there when it happens, or there's nothing to fear because there's nothing there. And so they say all kinds of things.

Or they'll say, we're going to go on and on and forever and ever. But it's all an attempt to wrestle with the fact that we fail to put these things together. Considering the power, the justifiable power of God's anger to punish sin, the right execution of his wrath against our rebellion and our indifference, and to say, Golly, unless this same God before whom I stand condemned does something on my behalf, I've got no hope. And Paul says to the Ephesians, he says, Remember that before you understood who Jesus is and what Jesus had done, you were like other people.

You were without God, and you were without hope in the world. So the psalm ends with just a string of requests, doesn't it? Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Strange request, isn't it? Is this a request for mathematical ability?

No. We need to be taught. Give me a heart of wisdom.

What does that mean? Well, part of the nature of our rebellion against God is that we just don't want to do this. Ecclesiastes 7. Someone who's always thinking about happiness is a fool. A wise person thinks about death.

A wise person thinks about death. Teach us. Return, O Lord.

How long? Have pity on your servants. You can imagine Moses there in the middle of all these wilderness wanderings. He's saying, You got us out of Egypt and look at the mess we're in now.

Could you come and do something again? In fact, when you read that quote—it's almost a direct quote from Exodus 32—it is the context of the golden calf, remember? Lord, intervene on behalf of your people once again. Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Well, there's a shaving-mirror verse if ever there was one, huh?

There's one of your little things for your dashboard. It's a lovely verse, isn't it? But where does it come? What makes it so lovely?

The background. We're brought to an end by your anger. You've set our iniquities before you. Our secret sins are known to you.

Our life is ebbing away. Satisfy us. Satisfy us. Listen to this.

Can you believe this is Woody Allen? There will be no solution to the suffering of mankind until we reach some understanding of who we are, what the purpose of creation was, what happens after death. Until these questions are resolved, we are caught.

Absolutely true. I'd love to have the chance to share Psalm 90 with them. But he's not here, so I can only share it with you. What is this steadfast love? What is this covenant love of God? Where does it ultimately find its fulfillment? It all points right through to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is love, not that we love God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

I wonder where you are in relationship to this this morning. You see, our death has been handled by the death of another. Our life is found in the life of another. Our destiny is before the throne of God to give an account. It is appointed unto man once to die. There ain't no second go around. And after that comes the judgment.

And the story of Christianity is that God in Christ has entered into our death, into our rebellion, into our suffering, into our sin, and has taken upon himself these things so that those of us who turn from ourselves to embrace him as a Savior need not fear that day but may rest in the provision of Jesus. Well, you may be just a youngster today. Don't wait until you're old. Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the time of trouble comes, before you're older, losing your hair many years from now, wondering if anyone will still send you a Valentine, a birthday greeting, a bottle of wine, you know, that kind of thing. Now is the time.

Now is always the time. You're listening to Alistair Begg on Truth for Life with a message he has titled, Fraile as Summer's Flower. Here at Truth for Life, we are passionate about sharing the gospel with as many people as we can. As you listen to the program each day, others are joining you from all around the world, listening through radio, online, using the mobile app or podcasts, even through YouTube, and streaming options like Roku or Amazon Alexa. This global outreach is only possible because of your prayerful and financial partnership, and we are genuinely grateful for you. We often receive emails from listeners telling us how thankful they are for the clear, relevant Bible teaching they hear on Truth for Life that your support has made available to them. So if you're looking for a way to share the gospel, know that your partnership with Truth for Life will help deliver biblical teaching to a worldwide audience. You can make a donation at slash donate, or you can call us at 888-588-7884.

I'm Bob Lapine. Is the Bible a book of wisdom, a guide for moral living, or something else? Tomorrow we'll begin a series called, The Work of the Word, and we'll find out the answer. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-07 07:26:09 / 2024-02-07 07:34:34 / 8

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