Psalms 1 & 2
Today we begin a new sermon series based on selections from one of the largest books of the Bible, the Book of Psalms – a collection of the sacred poetry and songs of our spiritual ancestors.
Right smack dab in the middle of our Bibles, the psalms resonated with countless generations of God’s people as these prayers and songs capture all the highs and the lows that come from walking by faith in the Lord.
Written by various authors including biblical figures like David, Solomon, and Moses, the psalms vividly reflect the full gamut of human emotion and experience.
They express our gratitude and joy with God as well as give voice to our questions, our anger, and our doubts, even as they offer us comfort, assurance, and hope in our sorrows.
It is for this reason that we’ll be exploring selections from the Book of Psalms over the next few weeks, ancient songs and prayers that relate to various themes in our lives – joy, loss, anger, justice, peace, dealing with our enemies and being citizens of the world.
Today we are going to focus on the first two opening songs in this collection: Psalms 1 and 2.
Open your Bible and notice how Psalm 1 opens with a beatitude (“Blessed is the one”), and Psalm 2 closes with a beatitude (“Blessed are all”).
“Blessed is the one…” (Psalm 1:1)
“Blessed are all…” (Psalm 2:12)
The position of these beatitudes function like bookends – indicating what is shared within these two psalms forms a kind of frame or lens through which we should perceive and understand the rest of the collection.
Everything else expressed in this book is built on the foundation laid with these first two psalms.
With this understanding in mind, let’s listen to Psalm 1 in its entirety.
But remember to keep those Bibles open, because even though we won’t hear it read aloud, we’re also going to be looking at Psalm 2 today. (TEXT)
I’ve never met a single person who wants to live a bad life. How about you?
Everyone wants to live a good life. Everyone wants to live THE good life.
The question is, “What is THE good life?”
Depending on who we ask, there can be very different answers to this question.
Psalms 1 & 2 are the Bible’s answer to the question of what the good life is.
In speaking of the good life, the writer uses the term, “blessed.”
“Blessed is the one…” (Psalm 1:1)
Right off the bat, we learn something.
Because to speak of the good life as the blessed life is to imply true goodness in life is not something we can earn or achieve on our own but is instead a divine gift from above – something bestowed upon us.
In other words, the good life is the manifestation and reflection of God’s grace in our lives.
To underscore this point, the writer of this psalm goes on to unpack the nuance of blessedness – the good life – by declaring what it is not.
“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…” (Psalm 1:1)
And based on the threefold description that follows – wickedness, sin, and mockery – the good life eludes us when we live in opposition to God. .
To live in opposition to God is go against the grain of grace, it is to reject the Lord’s intentions and purposes for our life together and instead to attempt to fashion our own lives on our way and call it good.
Instead of living out of the blessings God gives; it is seeking to bless oneself.
At first, this may not sound all that bad.
But here’s the thing, when we attempt to bless ourselves, this is just another way of trying to play God.
And whenever I attempt to play God, somebody else has to serve me.
Our attempts to bless ourselves apart from the Lord often become a curse upon the life of others.
Whenever we try to define and construct our version of the good life; other people pay the price.
One of the hard realities we are still struggling to come to grips with as a nationis that we cannot deny the blessings of this country in which we pride ourselves and often boast have been less about living out of God’s grace and more about being built on the backs of others.
Living in opposition to God is not presented as a matter of ignorance – of not knowing not any better.
According to the psalmist living this way is a purposeful choice.
It is a conscious violation of the way of the Lord – knowing exactly what we are doing as we ignore or reject God’s instructions and directions for living.
It is a progression of movement away from God that begins by – “walking in step” – moving away from, heading in the opposite direction of the Lord.
But gradually mere steps away from God becomes a firmer posture of stopping – of “standing in the way” of what the Lord is doing.
Eventually one finds themselves “sitting in the company of mockers” parking themselves in a regular position of defiance towards God.
Psalm 2 picks up by questioning the wisdom of living out of this sort of posture.
“Why do the nations conspire
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed…” (Psalm 2:1-2)
Why – what is the point – the writer of Psalm 2 asks of conspiring against the plans and purposes of God?
To live like this is vanity – a futile effort. It’s all for naught.
“The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
“I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.” (Psalm 2:4-6)
Living in defiance of the Lord ultimately accomplishes nothing as Psalm 2 celebrates the unquestionable supremacy of God over all the rebellious forces of humanity.
Psalm 1 offers us a sobering picture of where all such conspiring, all of humanity’s willful attempts to orchestrate its own version of the good life ultimately lead.
“Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (Psalm 1:4)
Apart from the grace of God, living on own terms, we end up like chaff the wind blows away.
Chaff is the leftover part of the grain – the stalk, the skin of the kernel that remains when the wheat is harvested.
In biblical times, to separate the wheat from the chaff, you would take your basket, or towel, or blanket full of grain and stalks and then toss it up to the sky.
Because the grain is heaviest, it would fall to the ground.
The heaviest straw would be blown by the wind and fall to the outside of the floor.
The chaff, meanwhile, those very small pieces of straw – were so light, they would blow away completely with the wind.
Apart from the Lord, we – all our plans, all that we build, all that we prize are so fragile, so unstable, that like the chaff, even a light breeze, let alone a gust of a strong wind, blows us away – shakes us to our very core and threatens to fade us into nothingness.
“but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (Psalm 1:6)
Trying to live the good life apart from God’s grace isn’t good at all because, as the psalmist declares, that way “leads to destruction.”
It’s a harsh word – one that may be challenging to hear and accept.
But there is no getting around the truth that apart from God, we experience the frustration and disintegration of all our hopes and plans as we ultimately face the literal death of our lives – the end of our existence.
By now, we’re probably thinking, “Okay, we understand the good life isn’t whatever we try to make our lives but what then is the good life?
Against the backdrop of all that humanity seeks to achieve on its own and dares to call good, Psalm 2 provides us an answer.
“Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:10-12)
For Psalm 2 heralds both the ultimate revelation and invitation to the good life in the coming of the Lord’s anointed, the Messiah – the One in whom God has invested his power and authority over all creation in order to change the world – including us – for the better.
Reading the psalms, on the other side of the New Testament – in light of the Gospel, we know not just the name but the person who is this Messiah – Jesus Christ.
And so as Psalm 2 closes with both the invitation and the warning to settle down, to embrace and kiss the Son of God and take refuge in him – we discover the true, good life can only be found by yielding to and following Jesus – his life, his teachings, his death, and resurrection – as Christ reshapes and transforms our life and all creation.
Going back to Psalm 1 we can tease further what this looks like as the psalmist talks about how blessedness – the good life comes from delighting and meditating in the law or instruction of the Lord.
“Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:1 – 2)
Specifically this is a reference to what is known as the Torah – the first five books of the Bible that contain both the revelation of the character and purpose of the Lord for all people and the specific instructions for living that God gives to the people of Israel.
Every other book in the Old Testament draws its wisdom, its direction, and guidance from the Torah – the word of God that creates and sustains life.
From the first moment the word of God was given to us, our human tendency has been to receive this word statically – merely as a bunch of rules and requirements we have to follow in order to keep out of trouble.
Because of this – our incessant fixation on arguing over the details and splitting hairs – trying to find the exceptions rather than internalizing the rule or code of life the Lord gives to us, the Torah, the Word of God, becames flesh.
In the coming of the Messiah, in Jesus Christ, we are given a living, breathing, perfect example of the fulfillment of the Law, of what our humanity was intended to be, what we can become if we abide completely in the Lord.
Through the example and teaching of Jesus, we discover living the good life is less of a checklist and more of a posture, an orientation.
Jesus explicitly tells us living the life our Father intended for us is not about religiously sticking to the letter of the Law as much as it is about embodying the spirit of the Law.
The good life is reflecting to each other the character of the God in whose image we have been created.
The good life is acting justly as a reflection of the God who is just. Loving mercy as a reflection of the God who is merciful. Living rightly as a reflection of the God who does right by us. The good life is walking humbly and serving others as a reflection of the God who humbled himself to serve us.
The good life then is not following a rulebook or a religion; it is living out of a deepening and maturing relationship with the One who incarnated all that is good – with Jesus Christ – who perfectly embodied all the blessings of living out of God’s grace.
Psalm 1 offers us two specific practical orientations for living out of God’s grace.
While these two verbs speak of how we are to engage the word of the Lord – since Jesus is the Word of God made flesh – let us also hear them in terms of how to engage our relationship with Christ.
“whose delight is in the law of the Lord..” (Psalm 1:2)
First, living the good life is to DELIGHT in the word of the Lord.
“Delight” = to find and to take joy – to savor and to relish all of the above.
We talk about reading God’s word, listening and paying attention to the life and teaching of Jesus, but…
Do we DELIGHT – do we savor and relish God’s word?
Do we find and take joy in our relationship with Jesus?
Do we receive the Lord’s instruction, character and guidance out of obligation or desire?
Do we have to be reminded that Jesus is with us – leading us every step of the way – or are we constantly looking for Christ – orienting ourselves – our thoughts, our words, and our actions – and taking our cues from Jesus’ leadership and example?
When I was younger, I heard my parents but often didn’t listen to them. I was often too busy, too distracted, too full of myself to listen.
Now that I’m older, I look forward to my conversations with them. I enjoy listening to them talk and share with others. I even glean from those conversations too.
Do I delight in the realization that my Heavenly Father talks to me – knows and understands me, wants to be known by me and seeks to lead me into joy, contentment and security?
Or am I too busy trying to fulfill my agenda, too distracted by the worries and concerns of this world, too full of myself to listen – to relish the God in Christ who is both with me and for me?
Living the good life is to DELIGHT in the word of the Lord. But living the good life also is to MEDITATE on God’s instruction. “and who meditates on his law day and night.” (Psalm 1:2)
“Meditate” is another distinctive word! = to reflect, to mull (work over in one’s mind), to chew on until digested – internalized – a part of you.
We often admonish each other to study, to memorize and to know God’s word,
Many of us can quote to others both chapter and verse of what Jesus said,
But do we get INTO the word of God? Do we yield and let the word of God get inside of us? Do we abide in and allow the teachings and example of Jesus not just to tickle our ears or warm our hearts but also to begin to transform how we see the world and interact with each other?
We say we believe in Christ but are we following Christ – are we letting the word of Christ not just be a part of how we think or how we feel but actually change how we think and what we feel?
Our Father wants us to be wise. Jesus comes to give us, to show us , to teach us wisdom. But wisdom and knowledge aren’t the same thing…
I can know the Bible – the word of God – without living by the word of God.
We can know Jesus without actually following Christ – without surrendering my thoughts, my words, and the actions I take to Jesus’ direction.
Whereas having knowledge is about having information, wisdom is about discerning, judging and applying knowledge to life.
Wisdom is about being able to separate truth from fiction, right from wrong and that which is temporary versus that which is lasting.
The Bible isn’t a textbook. Jesus isn’t Google. Looking for information is one thing, seeking wisdom is something else entirely.
Living the good life is not about knowing the Bible, even knowing who Jesus is.
Living the good life is about living out of the grace – applying the wisdom that God offers us through his word – through following Jesus.
Living the good life isn’t a life in which nothing bad ever happens.
But life still can be good even when things around us are bad if we understand that living the good life is living out of the blessing of the God who is with us and for us, even and especially in the midst of circumstances beyond our control.
Biblically, living the good life isn’t living the easy life. Living the good life is a life of continued growth – being stretched.
Living the good life then, isn’t always the comfortable life either.
Living the good life is being repeatedly called to die to ourselves as we are in order to be resurrected into who we were created to become.
Change is hard. Transformation takes time.
Especially, when we aren’t in control of either one of these things but instead are called to submit, to yield – to delight and to meditate as our lives and our character – how we think, feel, speak, and act – are continually transformed by Christ.
But living the good life is living a changed life – a life that continues to learn, and grow and to become more like Jesus.
This is what it means to be blessed – and it runs counter to how we often define and speak of God’s blessing.
Our tendency is to equate blessedness with material gain.
“I am blessed because my job is going well.”
“Finished moving into our new home. Feeling blessed.”
“Just returned from serving others who are poor and in need and realizing how blessed we all are.”
On the surface, all of these statements don’t seem problematic.
After all, we should thank God and give him the glory for everything we have.
The problem is when our understanding of what it means to be blessed by God – living the good life – is defined by the result of getting whatever we want.
This frames the Lord of all creation as little more than a divine, wish-granting fairy who now and then showers gifts upon some of us but not all of us.
To call ourselves blessed by God because of our material good fortune is an affront to others who are not likewise, so-called “blessed.”
If we claim God has blessed us when we get whatever we want, then how are we to respond to the person who didn’t get the job, who doesn’t have a home, who remain stuck in poverty? That they’re cursed?
If the extent of blessedness is getting whatever we want from God, then why hasn’t God blessed them?
Rightly understood, being blessed – living the good life – is not a cosmic lottery where every sincere prayer, where every good deed, earns us another scratch-off ticket – where the revealed prize just happens to be exactly what we wanted.
We don’t worship the God of positive reinforcement – doling out blessings like Hershey’s kisses for following directions.
While it is the Lord’s invitation and desire for us to seek and abide in His will and guidance; it is for our own good and not for His.
Experiencing God’s blessing is not about pleasing the Lord in order to receive a little something extra, the granting of some added divine favor.
Experiencing God’s blessing is about abiding in the favor that the Lord from the very beginning of creation all the way to the coming of Jesus Christ – the favor that our Heavenly Father always has been pleased to extend to us not because we earn or deserve it – but because He loves us as His children.
Experiencing God’s blessing – living well – is all about shalom – embracing the harmony and joy, the peace and contentment that can come from life not as we attempt to orchestrate it ourselves but as God intended for it to be, as the Lord graciously seeks to impart to us.
Life is good – we are blessed – as we are, through our Heavenly Father’s inspiration and direction, growing, advancing and prospering in all areas of life – such that our relationship with God, with ourselves, and with each other are aligned and centered in the truth and practice of unconditional love.
To quote Jesus, living the good life is loving God with everything He’s provided you and likewise loving your neighbor as you also love yourself.
For those of us who are visual learners, the writer of this psalm offers us a vivid picture of what living the good life looks like –
Being blessed – living the good life – is being “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither…”
Now, who would have imagined God, in calling and inviting us to experience the good life, would have told us to make like a tree?
But then again, if we think about it, as witnesses to history, trees are signs of stability and endurance in the midst of a volatile and changing world.
Well-rooted trees stand the test of time. Just go visit the Sequoias.
And as the psalmist also notes, trees, when healthy and connected to the right source, are vibrant and fruitful.
Trees are fruitful in that many produce actual fruit we can eat; but trees are also fruitful to us in that they provide us oxygen.
One mature leafy tree will provide enough oxygen in one season for ten people to inhale in a single year.
As trees prosper, we prosper, for trees not only provide us oxygen and food, they also clean our air, offer a home for wildlife and give us the means to build things.
Something noteworthy about this image is the stability, the vibrancy, and fruitfulness of a tree is dependent upon the grace of God – the gifts of rich soil, regular sunlight, and of course, a constant source of water.
In fact, the psalmist specifically connects the prosperity of the tree to the streams of water by which it is planted.
The point is living the good life – like a tree – is all about being rooted in our relationship with God.
Being rooted is to delight in the word of God – the person of Christ – that’s one of the reasons why we gather each week – to listen, to sing, to rejoice together as the Church in the grace of the Lord, the good news of the Gospel.
Being rooted also is to meditate on God’s word – the life, teachings, death, resurrection, and call of Christ – to mull over, to converse together, to share the Gospel, to reflect Christ in our homes and in our community.
Biblically, the blessed life is like the picture of a healthy and thriving tree – stable, fruitful, and brings life to others.
Being rooted is to live out of the blessing – the blessing not of our job, our home, our health, our standard of living – but the blessing of knowing and being known by the God who gives hope to the hopeless, the God who loves the unlovable, the God who comforts the sorrowful…
…this same God who in Christ has offered us through His Spirit this same power within us – to encourage and comfort the hurting, to unconditionally love those who perceive themselves beyond loving, to offer living hope to any who have given up on themselves or this broken but still beautiful, still redeemable world in which we live together.
The good life then is not a single life cycle of planting, watering, budding, and harvesting – for ourselves;
the good life is a regular rhythm of soil enrichment, branch pruning, root deepening and strengthening, and seasons of fruit-bearing – the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – for the sake of others, for the betterment of the world.
And so, we come back to where we started.
What is the good life? How would you answer that question?
Don’t respond too quickly. Think carefully about your answer.
How you respond will have massive implications on the rest of your life.
Because whatever we think the answer is, that is what we will live and strive for.
What motivates the things you do? What captures your imagination?
When you take the time to silence the busyness and distractions that swirl around you, what are the things you find yourself thinking about?
Have we fallen victim to the temptation of defining the good life in terms of “If only I had….”?
What’s the one thing in your life that you tell yourself would make you happy?
Everyone wants to be happy.
People define the good life in different ways, but everybody wants to live it.
We can spend our money, time, and energy chasing after our answer of what “the good life” is.
We can spend the first half of our lives preoccupied – obsessed – burdened with answering the question of “What we want to be when we grow up?”
And then we end up spending the last half of our lives hoping we’ve done enough, trying to justify our significance, trying to secure and hold onto our legacy as the world begins to pass us by.
We can run ourselves into physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion all along the way, only to finally see it all – all that we worked for, all that we build our lives on – becoming like us – nothing more than dust in the wind.
But what if the good life we’re all striving for, isn’t the good life we were created for?
What if being blessed isn’t something we have to earn or achieve from God but is a relationship of grace, hope, and love with God in Christ that we are invited to live out of?
What if instead of always trying to prove ourselves, believing we need to secure our future, what if instead of being haunted by the stress and the pressure that we’re missing something, we lived out of knowing who we are in Christ, of trusting that our best destiny has been assured by Him, of being released from fear and failure by following Jesus into discovering the joy-filled, open-handed, adventure of who we can become together in God the life we all long for, the life that in the deepest core of our being we innately sense is possible, the life that reaches far beyond this world to the next.
Beloved, let’s stop asking, “What if?” and let’s begin to live into the “What now?” – the good life, the blessed life that is ours in Christ.