Psalm 1: Refresh


August 4, 2019

Pastor Lucas Bitter

Intown Lutheran Church (Atlanta, GA)

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Are you feeling rested and refreshed now that “summer vacation” is over? 

I know that some of you here today are teachers and students, and some of you are not. . . . but whether you’re on the academic calendar or not, I think you can still feel the momentum shifting as we move into August.  People are done traveling.  Kids are done going to camp.  The time for relaxation has ended – and it’s time to get back to the grind.

Now ideally, after coming off of a “summer vacation,” you should feel rested and refreshed and re-energized to take on the year that lies ahead of you.  I mean that’s the point of summer vacation, right?  However, in reality things tend to look a little bit different.  In the words of one author, “No man needs a vacation so much as the man who just had one.”

And maybe that’s you this August.  Maybe you’re feeling like summer flew by so fast you didn’t even have time to enjoy it.  Maybe you’re feeling like summer wasn’t much of a vacation, because you so massively overscheduled yourself in every possible area of life.  Maybe as the school year starts you’re already thinking, “Man, I need a vacation.  When is fall break again?”

Well if that’s the case, then I’ve got good news for you.  Even though it may be a little while until your next physical vacation. . . .your spiritual vacation starts now.  From today through Labor Day here at church, we’re going to be walking through a sermon series called “Rest for the Stressed.”  Each Sunday we’re going to study one of the most comforting and encouraging psalms in the whole Bible. . . with the result that, hopefully, no matter what else is going on in our lives, we can all feel spiritually refreshed. We can say, “God’s got me.  And it’s going to be OK.”

Today we start, very fittingly, with Psalm #1.  We read it earlier but to introduce it to you again let me ask you one question. 

Are you tired?  (spiritually, I mean.) 

Are you tired of facing the same temptations of the devil day in and day out?

Are you tired of fighting against your sinful nature which keeps pushing you to do things you know full well are wrong?

Are you tired of being constantly pressured and influenced and pushed around by a society that disagrees with your whole worldview – even on things that seem like they should be just basic human morality?

Are you tired of peer pressure?

 Are you tired of being . . .

  • the only person in the room who’s a Christian?
    • the only person at your office who goes to church?
    • the only student in your class who believes in Jesus and the Bible?

Parents, are you tired of trying to teach your kids about God in a world where you are constantly challenged for your faith, and you know that the older they get the more they will be constantly challenged for their faith?

Are you tired?  Spiritually?  Well then, this psalm was written for you.

What Psalm 1 basically does is it walks through two ways of “doing life” – God’s way, and the world’s way.  And it demonstrates how God’s way is the only way that leads to meaning and fulfillment. . . . and leads to a fruitful and productive life. . . .and ultimately ends up with eternal life in heaven.

With all that said, let’s dive into Psalm 1.

Blessed is the one who does NOT. . .

walk in step with the wicked,

or stand in the way that sinners take,
or sit in the company of mockers.

Do you see the progression in those words?  This verse is a warning about the way sin wants to take our life.  Think about it:

  • First a person “walks in step with the wicked.”  That means she hangs out with wicked people (people who don’t really care what God says, and simply live to serve their sinful nature.)  As she hangs out with them, she starts to think like them.  Their mindsets and their lifestyles start to make sense to her.  They don’t seem so “wicked” anymore.
  • So next, she “stands in the way that sinners take.”  She’s no longer just hanging out with them, being influenced by them, thinking like them. . . now she’s acting like them.  She’s joining in with them.  She’s no longer just approving of their sinful actions, but she’s actually doing those things herself.
  • Then comes the last step.  She “sits in the company of mockers.”  She’s not just walking along with wickedness, she’s not just stopping and joining in sin, but she’s sitting down and camping out in it.  She’s totally committed to her sinful lifestyle.  In fact, now she’s a “mocker.”  As people walk by on the road of life attempting to do God’s will, she mocks them and makes fun of them and makes them feel so foolish that they’re tempted to give up on God too.   So not only has she fallen completely away from God, she’s now trying to pull other people away too.

We look at this list and we say, “Obviously that doesn’t sound like a good progression.”  “Obviously this isn’t something God wants me to do.”  But here’s something that’s not so obvious.  The path that is listed here (first walking, then standing, then fully camped out in sin) is the path that every single sin wants to take.

In the New Testament, the Apostle James describes sin in a very similar way.  Check this out.  He says, “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.  Its kind of a graphic picture.  It’s as though each temptation is trying to “seduce” our soul.  If it succeeds, a sinful desire is conceived.  If that sinful desire is not dealt with, it gives birth to sinful actions.  If those sinful actions are not dealt with, they grow into even more sinful actions which get bigger and bigger and uglier and uglier. . . until they finally become a full-grown monster which destroys our relationships and our life in this world. . . and which destroys our relation with God and our chance for eternal life in heaven.

Every sin wants to do this.  Every sin will do this.  There’s really no such thing as a “big sin” or a “small sin.”  Left unchecked, every sin wants to eventually make that progression from a seemingly harmless desire in our hearts to a raging monster that destroys us forever.

Is that scary?  Yeah it is!! Quite frankly if our sin doesn’t scare us, then we are underestimating the seriousness of our sin and what exactly it can do.  And yet, what did we learn in the Children’s Bible Story?  “You don’t have to be scared.”  Because God loves us.  God has promised to protect us.  And the picture of Psalm 1 is that during times of temptation, God protects us with the power of his Word.

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked, or stand in the way that sinners take,  or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

I want to talk about that word “law” for a minute.  (This is perfect timing because we just spent a whole month studying Galatians, and talking about the difference between law and gospel.)  This is super important.  To meditate on God’s law day and night does not mean that you just have to try harder.  It does not mean that you just have to visualize success.  It does not mean that if you just set your mind to being a good person, you can actually become one. 

No – when this verse talks about “God’s law” it is using that term in the broad sense.  (You see this a lot in the Old Testament, especially in the Psalms.)  When this verse talks about “delighting in the law of the Lord,” it is talking about delighting in God’s entire Word.  Including – especially – the message of the gospel.

The message that because we have a serious sin problem, God sent us an even more serious Savior.

The message that Jesus faced all the same temptations that we do, and he never fell into sin – not even once.

The message that Jesus lived this kind of life, not just to be our example – but to be our replacement.

The message that Jesus died on the cross to suffer the destruction that our sins deserved. . . and to give us, as a gift, the perfect life he lived in our place that has won for us eternal life in heaven.

That’s the message God wants us to “delight in.”  And to “meditate on day and night.”  Because as we fill ourselves up with the gospel, our faith grows stronger and stronger.  And God’s Holy Spirit gains more and more of a foothold inside of our hearts.  He leads us to pluck out sinful thoughts before they have a chance to take root.  He leads us to repent of sinful actions before they have a chance to grow and take over our lives.  He leads us to the cross of Jesus over and over again to find forgiveness for our sins, and motivation for living our life the way God wants us to.

And thus God prevents us from slowing, and stopping, and sitting down and camping out in sin. . . . and he keeps us moving along the road of faith and life all the way to heaven.  It all happens through the power of God’s Word – “God’s law” in the broad sense of everything he wants us to know and do.

Blessed is the person. . . . .whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and who meditates on his law day and night.

So anyway that’s the mechanics of it. . . .but what does this look like in practice?

3 That person
– the Christian is like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever they do prospers.

Imagine that you are a tree living in a hot and dusty desert.  The baking heat and the scorching wind make it a deadly and unhealthy environment for trees.  But you have a secret weapon.  It’s water.  You’ve been planted next to an oasis.  And even though the you are surrounded by a hot deadly desert, you’re not just surviving.  You’re thriving.

You are like a tree planted by streams of water,
    which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
    whatever you do prospers.

This doesn’t mean that as a child of God your life on this earth is going to be perfect and easy.

This doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when you feel tired and stressed.

What it means is, when you are drinking deeply of God’s Word. . . .God makes you spiritually rested and refreshed.  God equips you, not just to handle all the trials and temptations that life throws at you – but even to help and encourage other people as they go through their trials and temptations too.

A “fruitful life” in every sense of the word.

I want to share something with you this morning.  You learn things when you preach. . . .  I’ve read Psalm 1 dozens of different times in my life.  I’ve analyzed it word by word.  In fact, I had to memorize Psalm 1 for Hebrew class at college.  And yet as I prepared this sermon for this week, I learned something about Psalm 1 that I’ve never noticed before.  You can see Jesus in the whole psalm.  Not just in the end part but even at the beginning.

The psalm starts out with a warning, right?  “Don’t walk with the wicked.  Don’t stand with sinners.  Don’t sit with mockers.”  And yet if you look at Jesus’ life, what did he do?  Who did he hang out with?  Who did he spend the most time with?  Who did Jesus not only sit with, but even eat with?  Prostitutes.  Tax collectors.  Sinners.  The corrupt, the immoral, the unclean.  Those were the kinds of people that Jesus “did life” with.  And this is one of the reasons the religions leaders hated Jesus so much. . . . because he spent his time with the lowlives of society instead of with them.

So why did Jesus spend all this time with the prostitutes and tax collectors and sinners and dregs of society?  It wasn’t because he wanted to condone their sin.  It was because he wanted to show them the meaning of grace.  One time some of Jesus’ enemies challenged him.  “Why do you spend so much time with sinners?”  Jesus answered, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”  In other words the very people who are walking in wicked mindsets. . . the very people who are standing up in sinful lifestyles. . . the very people who are sitting on the sidelines of life and mocking the children of God. . . those are people who need to find grace and forgiveness more desperately than anyone in the world.

And Jesus gave it to them.  He walked with them, he stood with them, he sat with them, without condoning their actions or making them feel like dirt.  Instead, by showing love and forgiveness and by sharing the good news of God’s Word. . . he was able to turn many of them from their lifestyles and put them back onto the path of being children of God.   One of Jesus’ closest disciples – Matthew- had been a corrupt tax collector.  Another – Mary Magdalene – had been a prostitute.

And so this, I think, is where the rubber really meets the road for our ministry here in Atlanta.  Like Jesus, we too are surrounded by people who are caught up in wicked and sinful lifestyles.  Like Jesus, we too are surrounded by people who in many cases are straight-up mocking God.  So how can we reach out to them in the proper way?  Without acting like “I am better than you just because I’m a Christian”. . . .and yet without getting pulled into sins which our sinful nature would be more than happy to indulge in?

Jesus did it by being the Son of God.  We do it by using the Word of God.

If we’re serious about reaching out to the people of our city, the very first thing we need to do is be deeply rooted in God’s Word for ourselves and drink from it every day.  We need to drink deeply of God’s Word, not so that we can learn some perfect strategy for evangelism and outreach. . . but simply so that we can become so full of the message of grace that it oozes out of every pore.  We don’t want the free forgiveness of Jesus to be a thing we only think about on Sundays.  We want the free forgiveness of Jesus to be the lens through which we view every detail of our lives.  “This is who I am.  I am a freely-forgiven child of God.  I am going to heaven.”  And with that in the back of our mind, we are equipped. . . .

  • To walk with the wicked but not to think like the wicked.
  • To stand with sinners but not to join in their sin.
  • To sit with mockers but not to join them in their mocking.  Rather, to show them that they too are loved and forgiven and promised eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus.  To share with them the good news of “A God Worth Knowing, A City Worth Loving, and a Life Worth Living.”

That’s a “fruitful life” where “everything we do prospers.”  May God grant us a life like that, through the power of his Word.

And now our psalm ends with one more sober warning.

4 Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away. 
(very different picture than that healthy palm tree at the oasis.)
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction

There’s a lot on the line here, isn’t there.  Fruit and chaff.  Life and death.  Heaven and hell.  But God has given us his Word as the key to it all.  To build our faith and keep us on the path to heaven. . . .and to rescue others and bring them into God’s family before it’s too late.

God grant us deep roots and healthy fruits, for Jesus’ sake.