Psalm 73

The Unspoken Contract  —  Pete Bauer

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on September 11th, 2011.  To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Ps 73.

Is God Good to His People?

My Feet Had Almost Slipped:  “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.  But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;  I had nearly lost my foothold.”

Who is the author of this Psalm?  Is he a man who is sort of on the fence of faith – not really sure what he believes – lackadaisical about his faith?   No – actually Asaph is a man who loves God and honors God.  He keeps his heart pure.  He is careful in his walk with God (he washes his hands).   He is one of the Psalm writers – a worship leader in Israel.

What is Asaph telling us?   He is saying, I really got to the place where I just wasn’t sure I wanted to continue in my faith – that I could do this anymore.   He uses the image of a man climbing up a mountain and he says – I almost slipped and fell – I almost lost my foothold – the whole thing, my faith, almost came crashing down into ruin.  Why?

I Envied the Prosperity of the Wicked:  “For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.  They have no struggles, They are free from the burdens common to man…”

Ok, maybe this is a bit of an overstatement, but we all know what he means.  He is talking about the evil businessman who cheats those he provides services for – the corrupt politician – the deceiving church leader who is immoral or who leads people astray with corrupt teaching – the abusive parent who hurts their children – the family member whose manipulative selfishness twists a whole family – the unjust judge.   The point is that there are people like this who thrive – while they are significantly  hurting other people.

  • They are violent and threaten oppression:  vs.6&8 – They hurt other people and oppress  even those they should care for and help.
  • They lay claim to heaven:  vs.9-10 – They claim God’s authority and blessing and by doing so lead people astray – yet God does not seem to do anything about it.
  • They mock God: vs.7&11 – They make statements like “God is Dead” or We now have proof that God does not exist, and that is what makes the headlines.

These are Real and Heartbreaking Questions:  We cannot live with blinders on and not look at these things.  Why do evil people thrive?  Why do those we love get sick and die?  Why doesn’t God stop cult leaders or false teachers who tear families apart?  Why doesn’t God seem to hear the prayers of those who are desperately asking for help or understanding?

Why Am I Washing My Hands?

Does it Mean Anything to Continue to Be Pure?  “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure;  in vain  have I washed my hands in innocence.”

In vain – to no purpose –  For empty reasons – I have been struggling to do the right thing.  Why am I struggling to do this?  What did I hope to gain from God?  What was the unspoken contract I had with God, (I will do this – keep my heart pure – if You will do this…)?

~ Vs.14 The question wouldn’t leave him alone“All day long I have been plagued;  I have been punished every morning.”  He could not put it out of his mind.  And all day he would think about it, and every morning it would be in his face when he woke up.

~ Vs.15 He could not talk to anyone about it:   “If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children”   He didn’t want to lead anyone astray, and  he could not find anyone in the community of God’s people who would understand.

~ Vs.16 When he tried to understand  he became depressed“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me…”   It was like a weight that weighed him down so that he struggled to worship.  It drained him.

I think we have to take very seriously the fact that this Psalm – these questions and this experience, are in the middle of the worship book of Israel – God’s people.   We need to ask these questions.  I’ll go farther… It is good to ask these questions.

Why are you keeping your heart pure?  What is the contract?  What do you hope to gain?  If you could “pull off” the Christian life exactly as you wanted to – what would the pay off be?  What would you get out of it?  What are you pinning your hope on?

Who Are You God?

Then I Entered the Sanctuary of God:  I think he means more than that he went to church – or to the Temple – he may mean that, but he also means more than that.  I think Asaph is saying that he seriously confronted the question of who God – the Holy and Almighty – really is.

We come to church every week and hear a sermon.   We study the Bible and we sing worship songs.  This man led worship in the community of God’s people.  He kept his heart pure.  He was a man of faith and devotion to God.  But LOOK – only now – at this point of crisis in his life – does he finally address this question.  Who are you God?

In Regard to the Arrogant…

God is the Judge- Eternal – Unthreatened:  “Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly they are swept away…”

Actually, God is not worried about evil men.  Those who mock God do not threaten him, even though they may lay claim to heaven  – claim to represent him.  God can expose them to those they are leading astray.  God can sweep evil men away in a moment – and God will hold them accountable.

God is Ever gracious King:  But God is also much more gracious than we are.  Asaph tells us, “When  my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”  But God isn’t bitter.  God sustains the breath of those who are mocking him because he does not hate those whom he has made with his own hands.  God is patiently bringing even the most evil people to repentance.

In Regard to His Children…

God is Our Guide and Counselor:  “… you hold me  by my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

This is the answer to the question of why we should wash our hands in innocence.   God is making something of our lives that we will one day recognize as glorious.   Maybe that isn’t evident to you right now.   But what Asaph recognizes is that there is a bigger picture to his devotion than just doing the right thing.

God allows Asaph to struggle with these questions so that Asaph will come to know him better – and love him more deeply – that’s counsel.  But God also takes this enormous struggle and has used it for generations to help others who are struggling with the same issues – to lead them to a greater knowledge and love of Himself.

God is Our Reward and Strength:   “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And earth has nothing I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever”  Probably the most profoundly important thing that Asaph learns about God is that God loves him.  Remember where this Psalm began – with Asaph questioning the goodness of God – angry really – feeling like God was unfaithful.

But now, look at what Asaph says – my heart failed to believe – my flesh failed to be strong – but when I despaired, God, rather than reacting in anger or abandoning me, came to me – through the Scriptures – through the words of a friend – through an experience – and showed me grace.   God showed me that rather than turning away from me he was drawing me nearer through this struggle.

God Has Become Our Substitute:  What do you think when you read Psalm 73?  Asaph was a faithful man, who was pure, who washed his hands.   He is an honest man who struggles.  Frankly, I wish I was as honest and as pure as this man.   Maybe you are saying, right now, good for Asaph,  but my struggle is different.   I haven’t washed my hands – I haven’t honestly wrestled with God – I have just failed.  Maybe you have failed to be pure – or honest – or bold – or loving.  If that describes you, then there is good news.

The Gospel allows us to go a step further.  God is not only our reward, reassuring those who have tried to do a good job following him – God has, through Jesus Christ, become our substitute.  God’s Son died on the cross – taking on himself all that we are (our sin, our shame, our failure, our anger and doubt), and giving to us in exchange all that he is – that is Substitution!  The gift of substitution means that in God’s eyes we have become faithful – who were not faithful.  We have become Sons who were  strangers.  We have overcome the struggles of life – who had failed to struggle.  Jesus has become all that we were and we have become all that he is before the Father.   The life that you live and have lived is no longer your life (Col.3:2-4).

Is God good to his people?   We often answer yes quickly because we are afraid to struggle with the question.  But God invites us to struggle in order to know him deeply.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s