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God Our Refuge: Finding the Blessed One
Psalms 1:1 - 1:6
July 10, 2022
Reverend Chris Hildebrand
Psalm 1 acts as an introduction for the Book of Psalms, and meditating upon it allow us to see ourselves in a mirror and understand not only who we are, but the world around us. In our first installment of the Summer Series “God Our Refuge,” we see that Psalm one is an introduction, but also an invitation and promise that we will be blessed by reflecting upon the Psalms through Christ’s example.
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We are beginning a new sermon series, which is going to carry us through the rest of the summer. We're going to be walking through the first few Psalms and letting them guide us. Our sermon series is God our Refuge: Finding and Delighting in the God who Rescues Us. That last part got cut off because there wasn't enough room in our various media areas, but I'm still holding it in my heart.
The Psalms are a remarkable book of poetry and song that tell the epic deeds of the living God. They celebrate God's faithfulness in the past, and they point us to a future, and help give us language for every circumstance and emotion that we can think of. It’s why the reformer Martin Luther called it the mini Bible. This is why Israel in the Old Testament, and the church throughout history, have seen the Psalms as crucial to understanding our life with God.
The Psalms, in one way, act as a pair of glasses. Glasses help you see the world. They bring clarity, and they bring things into sharper focus. This is what the Psalms do for us. They talk of the realities of nations, and leaders, and powers, and principalities, the righteous and the wicked. It helps us to see the world that we're living in even more clearly than we do. When we read the Psalms, we can understand our world. To meditate on the Psalms is to be trained and schooled for every situation that you can imagine.
The Psalms also act as a mirror. They don't just show us the world around us, but they show us ourselves. The Psalms give words to every human emotion. The Psalms reflect the reality of the human heart, and therefore, the beauty and the brokenness that we find in ourselves. If you want to understand yourself more, you should read and meditate on the Psalms.
The Psalms also act as a telescope or binocular of sorts. They propel us forward. They broaden our vision to understand who God is, and ultimately to see Jesus—the hope to which all of the Psalms points. The Psalms have not only been the song book of the church, the Psalms were the songbook of Jesus. Throughout Jesus’ ministry—in key moments in his life and on the cross—Jesus took up the Psalms upon his lips. It's the book of the Bible he quotes more than any other. Whether you've been a Christian for years and are very familiar with the Psalms or whether you're here exploring Christianity, I invite you, this summer, as we're journeying through these initial Psalms to take up the Psalms yourself. Read them, meditate on them, give yourselves to them, and let them guide you to understand yourself and to understand the world around you, and ultimately, to see Jesus.
In this sermon, we're going to look at Psalm 1. Let's give our attention to God's word.
1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners nor sits in the seats of scoffers; 2but his delight is in the does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The Word of the Lord is absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.
Would you pray with me?
Our great God and Heavenly Father, we thank you for the Psalms, and for Psalm 1, and for the ways it stirs our hearts and gives us understanding about ourselves and our world, and ultimately, who you are and what you're doing in our lives and in our world. God, help us to delight in your Word and your truth this morning. Stir our hearts, but that can only happen by the power of your Spirit. Send us your Spirit. We pray all this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
This hasn't always been my practice when I approach a book, but recently, I found myself starting to pay a little bit more attention to the preface or to the introduction of a book, and then flipping to the end and reading the conclusion of the book before I dive into the argument or flow. I'm talking about nonfiction. I'm not talking about fiction. I'm not a monster. I would never read the end of a work of fiction before starting the book. I’m talking about nonfiction like theological books or books on life, culture, leadership, those kinds of books. I find it to be really helpful because I find that spending a little bit more time in the introduction, rather than just jumping to the first chapter, gives me a little bit more clarity about what the author's intentions are and where the author is going to take me. Reading the conclusion does that as well.
Psalm 1—and we are going to see this in Psalm 2 in the following sermon—acts as an introduction to the entire Book of Psalms. It's here in Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 that we get a glimpse of what is in store for us as we take up the Psalms. I want to look at this sermon, by way of introduction, at Psalm 1. I want us to see that it’s an introduction, an invitation, and a promise.
On the surface, Psalm 1, acting as a pair of glasses by which we can see the world, is saying there are two types of people in the world: there are the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are the ones that meditate on God's Word and the wicked are everybody else. Often, that leads to the next question: Which one am I? Where do I fit in? Am I one of the good ones or one of the bad ones? However, this text actually suggests something even deeper and more profound because the reality is that we naturally, if left to ourselves, walk in the council of the wicked. We stand in the way of sinners. We sit in the seat of scoffers. Our ears and our hearts are naturally bent away from God's voice and toward all the other voices that are out there in our world. The voices that say this world is all there is. The voices that say there's no reason to hope in anything more than what we can see, taste, and touch. The voices that say you’re on our own and that you can define yourselves any way that we like. It's our own voice or the voices of culture that are always ringing in our ears. Therefore, all of us start from law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf the place of sitting in the seat of sinners.
Psalm 1 is a doorway into the rest of the Psalms. It shows us the type of person you will become, if you take this journey through the Psalms. If you take this invitation to let the Psalms guide you, if you let them teach you to give every part of yourselves to God, this Psalm 1, is describing who you will become.
A few weeks ago, my family spent two days at Disney World, which was more than enough. It had been years since I'd been there, and I had not been there with my kids. I was completely reliant on my sister who has older kids than mine. She had been there a few times, so she knew the lay of the land and how to do Disney. I refused to do any sort of planning for this because I didn't really want to think about it. She told us how to do it, what to wear, what to eat, how long we're going to be standing in lines—it’s going to be a long time. She prepared me for that. We still went because I love my kids.
Here, Psalm 1 tells us what you can expect on this journey. It's the first word of the Psalm, “blessed.” “Blessed is the man,” blessed is the woman, the person—here is who you will become if you give yourself to the Psalms. Those first words “blessed is the man” are a declaration that there is blessedness. There is peace. There is wholeness, happiness, and joy to be found in every aspect of life. That's a very bold way to start a journey. There's no qualification here. There's no sense of irony or sarcasm. Do you see how different that is from our culture? We are bombarded with the idea that if blessedness can be found, you must look a certain way, you must have a certain job, you must find a certain type of person to be with, and, ultimately, you must look out only for yourself. Whatever blessedness looks like or what happiness is, submission to any sort of outside authority other than yourself is not involved. Freedom from self is the key. That's why so many modern people scoff at Christianity and scoff at the church. But Psalm 1 declares that there is a different way, a different path to take to find what we are looking for, to find the life, wholeness, and meaning that we're always searching for. There is another choice than the status quo, than what our world, our culture, tells us is the way to happiness.
What this Psalm declares is that God, the one who made us, in whose image we are made, has come to renew that image and make us whole again. He is the one that is blazing this path towards blessedness. Right away, the very first word of the whole book ought to pique our interest: “blessed.” This word will show up again at the end of Psalm 2, which again is a clue that Psalm 1 and 2 are very closely tied together. But Psalm 1 introduces us to another way, to another path, another way of life, another way to blessedness. With that there's also this invitation.
The invitation in this Psalm is to listen to a new voice, to listen to another voice other than our own, to listen to God's voice. Look at the first part of v.2, “but his delight is on the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” After we read the Scripture passages each week here at Central, you’ll notice that Jason and I will say, “This is the Word of the Lord. It's absolutely true, and it's given to us in love.” Lots of traditions of the church after reading a Scripture passage will say, “The Word of the Lord” and the congregation responds with “Thanks be to God.” We do that because we believe that God has spoken to us through his Word, through the Scriptures, and that is a good thing. What we are saying is that our delight is to listen and to hear the words that God has spoken. But even more than that, it is our delight because we believe that these words were spoken to us and for us.
It's not that we don't realize that these Psalms and every other book of the Bible were written in a specific time and place for specific people who had specific issues. Rather, in many ways, we aren't that different from the people to whom these words were originally written. The original audience who would have read and really sang these Psalms had many of the same questions about God, and asked whether he was going to come through on his promises. They were living in times of turmoil, wondering if what God said was really true, wondering if he was going to come through on his promise that one day he was going to restore all of creation, so much so that death couldn't even touch it. We have those same questions. We have similar problems. We're just asking those questions with phones in our hands. But we have the same questions. We're not that much different.
This Psalm is an invitation to listen to God speak to us through his Word. Because he speaks to us and to our situation, it's also an invitation to offer our whole selves, the deepest parts of ourselves to God. That’s the person who is blessed in this text. It's the person who has heard this new voice and said, “It is good. It is my delight.” The second part of this verse, v.2 says, “On his law he meditates day and night.”
The invitation isn't only to listen and to be silent. The person who is blessed meditates. They chew on God's Word. The connotation there is to mutter and just turn them over and over—the words that God has spoken—day and night, no matter what the situation, no matter what the emotion. When the psalmist talks about the law of God, that the blessed one meditates on, he's not simply referring to the 613 Old Testament commandments about worship, food, and purity. He's talking about the totality of God's revelation. To delight in God's law is to rejoice in the story of creation, the call of Abraham, the Exodus from Egypt, the entering into the promised land, the return from exile, and everything else in between.
We have even more reason to delight in the Psalms than even the psalmist did because Jesus said that every word in the Old Testament was pointing ahead to him. Every commandment, every prayer, every story, every genealogy, it was all meant to point to him. We delight in the Scriptures because it is here that we are reminded of who we really are. We are objects of God's delight. Even the most beautiful thing you've ever seen, the most beautiful thing you've ever witnessed, a mountaintop, a sunset, something so beautiful, you can't even put words to—God says those are all good, but it's only you. It's only you that he loves. It's only you for whom Jesus gave himself on the cross. The point here is not that there's no truth to be found in the world or in those who don't acknowledge God's existence, rather that we delight in Scripture as the fundamental witness that enables us to understand ourselves and to understand our world.
Every one of us has stories, a script, and an experience that we rely on to chart our course through life. We're living off of some script, all of us are right?—parents’ expectations, American materialism, sexual liberation, political utopianism. We're living off something and hoping for something, but Psalm 1 says that if you want to be truly wise, then you must make God's Word as the architect of your thoughts, the lens through which you experience the world, the script that directs your life. The beautiful thing here is the Psalms don't ask you to pull yourself together before meditating on God's Word, before listening to his voice. What you find on this journey, and what you'll find in the Psalms, is a God who can handle your darkest thoughts, who can take your deepest wounds and your greatest disappointments. That's really important to know and to understand, because if God can't handle that, then who else can?
What you'll find in the Psalms is that you can’t. He invites us to give our deepest parts of ourselves to him. John Calvin, another reformer—I’m quoting two reformers in a service, very Presbyterian—says this about the Psalms,
“There's not an emotion of which anyone can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirror, or rather, the Holy Spirit has here drawn to life, all the griefs, the sorrows, the fears, the doubts, the hopes, cares, perplexities. In short, all the distracting emotion with which the minds of men are want to be agitated.”
Calvin is telling you, it's all there in the Psalms—all the emotions. That's why meditating day and night is a delight. It means you don't need to run and hide. You don't need to wait until you're in the proper place emotionally, until you feel like it, before you come before God. It's all here for you in the Psalms. That's really important because part of the reason we so often feel like we are disconnected from God, distant from him, or even beginning again our life with God is not only because we don't know who God is, but because we barely know ourselves. We don't know how to deal with our emotions, our fears, our angers, our grief, our sorrows, and our hurts. They so easily overcome us and they so easily overwhelm us. They control us. As you open yourself up to the Psalms—because every emotion is represented, because it's like a mirror—you’re not only going to learn things about God, but you can expect to learn just as much about yourself, about what it means to be human, about what it means to be made in the image of God, about what it means to be redeemed and live in a world where frustration, pain, and anger are still very present, even though God has made these promises to us.
This is why our hope and our intention here at Central, in our Community Groups, in our Bible studies, when we gather together, is always centered around meditating and delighting in God's word. The Psalms and God’s Word don’t just shape us, but they are meant to shape us as a community, as a church, because the Psalms were written for the entire community. The congregation of the righteous that the psalmist is referring to, here in Psalm 1, is not a group of sinless people or those who are self- righteous. Rather, this is a people who understand what it means to live by the grace and the mercy of God. The church is the community that God has established in order to help you become the person that God is talking about in Psalm 1. Those who receive this blessing can then offer this blessedness, this life, to others. We need to meditate on God's word. Together, we need to be meditating on the Psalms.
Lastly, there's a promise. There's an introduction, an invitation, and a promise. Here's the promise that Psalm 1 gives us in v.3, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” The promise is that you will become like a tree. It may not be the most enlightened image you wanted to hear about yourself. In some contexts, it doesn't always work for us. Trees do stuff, but you can't really see what they're doing. They don't move at all. It's a little strange to talk of all this emotion and offering the deepest parts of yourself to God, and God can handle all of your emotion, and then the image is: You’re going to become like a tree. Sometimes that doesn't quite fit.
I don't know if you've ever been out camping or on a hike in a deeply wooded area and thought, “I wish I were more like this tree.” Oftentimes, we don't think that. That's not the draw. Trees are beautiful, but you're also surrounded by them, and there are lots of dead trees, trees with diseases on them, trees that are falling over. When you're in the forest they can be kind of ordinary. But what if you weren't in the forest? What if you were in the desert? Because that's the landscape that the writer of the psalm had in mind. The original audience of the Psalms didn't go camping in forests. They were wandering through deserts. They lived in the modern day Middle East. What if you were in the desert, and you'd been in the blazing sun for days and days and weeks and weeks without shade, without water? Then you saw this big tree that was prospering in an arid land where very little life could be found. You would probably be more likely to find virtue, joy, significance, and delight in the beauty of that tree than if you saw a tree in the forest.
Therefore, to be like a tree is an amazing promise of stability, of receiving life, of being able to offer life, receiving blessing, and then being able to bless others. The psalmist isn't simply giving us some random agricultural metaphor about a tree. By using the image of a tree in Psalm 1, the psalmist is sending us back to the garden, to the very beginning of the Bible, to the Garden of Eden, where God planted trees. And these four rivers flowed from the garden throughout the rest of Eden and then on to the world, creating fruit and blessing the world around it. Later, Bible authors would pick up this imagery and build on this imagery of a tree that bears good fruit to describe one who was blessed, one who wouldn't be blown away like chaff, but who would be a blessing to others. This tree imagery also propels us forward, because there's not only an image of the tree and a picture of the tree in the very beginning of the Bible, but also at the very end. There in the city of God, in the new heavens and the new earth, at the very end of the Scriptures, the culmination of all things in Revelation 21, there sits a tree. This is Revelation 22:1-2,
“1Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
The promise that God makes to his people is that he has not left us to be like chaff, like little specks of weed blown about by fate and circumstance, but rather by the power of the Holy Spirit, he is deeply rooting us in his kingdom. The promise isn’t that, if you go through the Psalms perfectly, if you get your emotions in check flawlessly, then you can be like this tree. If you just figure all that out, then you can be like this tree, and you'll be able to prosper.
No, this image and the promise of this tree comes at the very beginning of the Psalms. That's why this is so important to understand. It comes at the beginning. We're not at the end. This isn't Psalm 150. This is Psalm 1, because God is telling us through this Psalm, that this is who I am making you to be. This is what I am doing in your life. I'm restoring you to be my image bearers. I'm taking specks of chaff and planting them and turning them into mighty trees. Because of that, because of what I'm going to do for you, come and delight in my word. Come meditate on and listen to my Word, day and night. Give the deepest parts of yourselves to me, because I'm already at work. I'm already doing this in you and in the world around you. The Psalms start with a promise.
One last thing. If you want to see how all this gets worked out, how you let the Psalms be your guide, how you give the deepest parts of yourselves to God, all you have to do is flip over to the New Testament, and then look at the life of Jesus. He constantly had the Psalms on the front of his mind. He always delighted in the law of God. He meditated on God's law, day and night. In his darkest hour, his point of greatest pain on the cross, he was so deeply rooted in the Psalms that he took them on his lips. Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I tell you all that not simply because Jesus is a good example of what it means to live with the Psalms, but that you will take Jesus with you in the Psalms. He prayed the Psalms. He sang them. He's the reason the promises of the Psalms are true for you. He's the reason you can give the deepest and darkest parts of yourselves to God and not be counted as part of the wicked, who will not stand in judgment, because he's taken the judgment for you. He has become the chaff. He took the judgment that is talked about in this Psalm, so that we can become like trees planted by streams of water.
Ultimately, and most beautifully, the blessed man—who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, the one who delights in the law of the Lord, day and night, the one who is like a tree planted by streams of water, who bears his fruit in season, whose leaves never fade away, who is a blessing to the nations,the one who is ultimately talked about in Psalm 1—is Jesus. He is the greater David. He is the one who has done this perfectly. It’s this blessed man who now calls us to this table, to feed, and to feast, so that we would be deeply rooted, so that we would have ears to hear God's voice and would delight in it, that we would be people who meditate on his Word, day and night, so that we would be shaped into the people he's calling us to be. It's the call of God's Word. It's the delighting in Psalm 1. It's gathering at this table to be fed by the blessed one that shapes us, that rootes us, and that gives us hope. This promise of the life we long for, this blessedness we long for, it's all here for us because of the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus.
Great God and Heavenly Father, we give you great thanks and praise for all that you are doing for us. That you have sent one who is the Blessed One, who is rooted in your word and your truth, and then offers blessing to us—our Lord Jesus, who now invites us to this table. God, shape us, mold us into a people, the congregation of the righteous, who are celebrating and delighting in your Word, meditating on it, being able to understand our own selves and the world around us and ultimately, you. God, we thank you for your word and your truth. Help us to delight in it. We pray in Jesus’ mighty name. Amen.