|Preacher||Rev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness|
|Sermon Title||The End of The Wicked|
|Text||Psalm 73 vv.16-20 |
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"When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me; Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end. Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction. How are they brought into desolation, as in a moment! they are utterly consumed with terrors. As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (Psalm 73, 16-20).
2. The righteous sometimes envy the wicked
3. We need to come to God's house to understand this problem
4. The end of the godly
If you look at the very beginning of this Psalm, you'll notice in slightly smaller type these words: A Psalm of Asaph and that tells us who wrote this particular Psalm. As you will know, most of the Psalms were written by David, some by other writers, and a number were written by this man who bears the name of Asaph. You may ask me, but who is he? Well, Asaph belonged to a famous family of singers in the tabernacle, and then later the temple, where public worship was held in Jerusalem especially. There were among other things teams of men whose job it was to lead the singing. There were also instrumentalists in Old Testament times. They played on all sorts of instruments of music that are referred to in the Psalms. Now we understand that those instruments of worship belong to the temple and that they belonged to the Old Testament period. We don't bring those things into worship anymore. They were symbolic of the worship of the heart of man of our adoration of God.
This man Asaph was one of these singers. He was a famous and great singer, not singing songs into the microphone as we think of some American singers today, but leading the choir of some of God's people in the temple. His sons, he seemed to have had four sons, they followed him in his great work of leading praise to God. As you study carefully in the Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles, you'll see that from generation to generation these sons of Asaph continued in their work for many centuries, I understand. Now this man Asaph wrote several Psalms. It might be worth your while, me telling you which they are. He wrote Psalm 50 and he wrote this one, 73 and the following Psalms to 83. That's about a dozen Psalms in total which he wrote.
In this Psalm 73, he tells us of his own experience. In this respect, Psalm 73 is not unlike Psalm 30 where David also talked about an experience which he had. The experience that Asaph refers to here consists of a mistake that he fell into. Now these men were great men of God. They weren't worldly men; they were heavenly or spiritually obedient to Christ, but they weren't perfect men. Here in Psalm 73, Asaph tells us of a mistake he made. He slipped into a way of thinking that was really quite wrong and even sinful.
This was the problem that he saw and which caused him to slip for a time - it was that as he looked about him in this world, he thought he saw that the wicked prospered more than the godly in this life. He began to be stumbled and offended at that thought. It upset him deeply, because the more he thought about it, the more unjust and unfair it seemed to him. The wicked seemed to get off with things and the righteous did not get off with these things so that than really is the basis upon which he wrote this very famous Psalm 73.
Asaph was an honest man and he does not conceal his own faults and his own mistakes. Worldly people do. They cover up for themselves sometimes by telling untruths and glossing over things and concealing their own mistakes and spinning what they have said so as to make the worse appear to be the better argument. Godly people don't go into that. Godly people go in for truth even when it is to their own disadvantage.
Asaph here tells us about this fault that he slipped into in his life and this is what it was. It was that he began to envy the wicked. We see this in verse three, "I was envious of the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (verse 3). "I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (verse 3). Well, now, this is a very common thing amongst those who have faith and those who believe in God and follow the ways of God. It will be surprising if we have not all of us slipped in to this, if we are Christians as many of us are here tonight - not all but many. It will be surprising if at one time or another we have not been tempted at any rate to envy the wicked. In order to help us with this, God in his goodness inspired this man, Asaph, to write these things down for our benefit, so that, we might understand that it is a great mistake to envy the prosperity of worldly men and women. We should never do it. But at times we are tempted to do it as Asaph was. So if we look at verses three and following he tells us in some detail the mistake he made.
Why does he envy the wicked? He begins now at verse four and following to tell us why he envied the wicked. First of all, he said, "there are no bands in their death: but their strength is firm" (verse 4). No bands in their death means that they are not worried when it comes to dying. They die peacefully. They die in their beds with their feet up and they are not the slightest bit worried about what's going to happen after death. They die calmly. They die with their friends around the bed without an anxiety and that upsets Asaph because he was not like that.
He realized that death is an extremely serious thing. The way in which we die determines our whole eternity. Many of the Lord's people, even the very best, at times when they come to their death bed, they have been deeply exercised, deeply tempted to wonder what is going to happen to them when they pass over to the other side. But the worldly are not like that says Asaph. They don't care and you and I know the reason that they don't care. At least, I hope you do.
Why is it that the world and worldly people can die so easily without fear? Well, of course, it's because they are ignorant. They have no idea what lies beyond death for wicked men, women, and children. They don't believe in God. They don't believe in hell or heaven. Worldly men suppose when you die it's just like this: snuffed out like a candle, no consciousness, no feeling, it's all over. We're done and gone forever like a dog or a beast.
But Asaph knew otherwise. He knew very well that human beings have a soul which will go beyond death; a soul that will live after death either in eternal happiness or eternal fire of damnation. Therefore knowing that as he, I trust all of us know that, he approached death not with absolute tranquility of mind, but with deep concern and spiritual exercise, because he wanted above all things that he would die well, die with faith, die in Christ, and die acceptable to God. It offended him when he thought that Christians and believers die, not always, but often with such concern of soul and worldly men who live for nothing but this world; they are so much at ease when they die. Not only that he says, "but their strength is firm" (verse 4). Even often, they enjoy very good health; far more than the Lord's people.
And so he goes on and he comes to something else. "They are not troubled as a man, neither are they plagued like other men" (verse 5). Now there's an interesting thing. Now what he means is this: that the Lord's people are day and daily subjected to chastisement by God. The reason is this: when God takes us into His family, He begins a process within us to make us increasingly sanctified or progressively holy, if you like. In order to do that, God takes various measures with us. For one thing, He teaches us from the Bible very serious things which are not to be gotten anywhere else. For another thing, God disciplines our lives by bringing convictions of sin into our experience troubling our consciences for our mistakes, compelling us to go on our knees sometimes many times a day asking for help and guidance and for wisdom to know how to live our lives and to make the right decisions at every point.
But Asaph says that the world is not like that. Worldly men are not troubled in that way. God doesn't discipline them. If you want an illustration it goes something like this: if you're a good parent you will correct your child and you will put them right. But if you have, let us say, a child from the neighbour's family comes in to play with your child for half an hour or something. Maybe this child has never been put right in their behavior and they don't know how to speak properly with courtesy and with respect and some of their language is reprehensible and some of their behaviour disgraceful. Well, it's not your child, so you say I'll put up with this for half and hour, but they'll never be back in my house, never, never. So you put up with it patiently and when they've gone that's it you say they must never come under this roof again there not your child. You don't discipline them, you don't put them right, it's not your personal responsibility. Now so it is with the Christian. God treats the Christian as He does His children and he disciplines them and He humbles them, and He puts them right, and He rebukes them. Every Christian gets that experience. The world are not so. God lets them go their own sweet way in this life anyway.
So He goes on a bit further and He tells us what worldly people become like, because God does not discipline them. "Therefore pride compasseth them about as a chain; violence covereth them as a garment" (verse 6). Pride and violence that's what is in the heart and character of a man whom God does not deal with, He doesn't chasten. Now the Lord's people will be just the same if God left us to ourselves, but God will not leave His own children to themselves. As an old puritan said when God sees His children, He will put them right. "God would rather see a hole in our clothes than a dirty spot and God will rub it until the dirt is taken out of it." In other words, our characters, if God sees a real fault or blemish in our characters, God will deal with that by rubbing it. If necessary he'll rub it until there is a hole in the garment. He will not suffer dirt to be in our character. He will not suffer filthiness and wickedness in His own children. He will deal with them so as to put right these infirmities and sins that are in our nature, but not so the wicked.
They prosper in this world Asaph goes on to say. They do well, not all of them, but many of them do. They get their photographs on the front page of big newspapers. They are very important. Yet it is very obvious from their private lives, they have many things that they would be ashamed of in which the Christian would be ashamed of. They get honour and they get publicity and big businesses and fast cars and motorbikes and all of the things the world goes for. But the Lord's people have faces as it were ground into the dust many a time. We're humbled, we're abased. God deals with us in an entirely different way.
If you want a quick summary of the difference, you could say this: that usually and often in this life the wicked have more common grace given to them. I have to qualify that but in a sense you can say that's true. God gives much more of this world often to the wicked than to the righteous. The righteous often have all kinds of humiliating experiences: experiences of people's hatred, separated from their company, their names are named in shame, unjustly, unfairly, unkindly. The world goes by on the other side and they are not at all put out by these things. They prosper in their way and it goes on like this.
He says verse nine concerning the wicked, "They set their mouth against the heavens, than their tongue walketh through the earth" (verse 9). That is an interesting phrase, "They set their mouth against the heavens" (verse 9). What does it mean? It means this: that they are forever saying, "O God" this and, "O God" that, ever blaspheming God, ever cursing God. Their mouth is against the heaven.
Well, that's what Asaph saw and when the Lord's people see these things - and they do see them - there is a great temptation here for every Christian to envy the wicked and almost to say, "I'm sorry I ever began on the life of faith." Of course, no true child really means that, but you can be tempted to think like that just momentarily. You can be tempted to think about all the troubles I've had since I began following Jesus Christ and look how easy the world has its life or appears to.
Asaph now tells us what he thinks and this begins at verse ten. He's telling us the consequence in the thinking of the Lord's people. Therefore he says to God's people "return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them." I suppose he's comparing the Lord's people here to something that had just been washed as you wash a towel or a shirt or something. Before you put it on the line to dry, you squeeze it the old fashioned way. You squeeze it as hard as you can and the water drips out of it. He's comparing himself to that, "I'm like a towel drenched in water" he says, "It's wrung out of me." The tears are wrung out of me, because I see the discrepancy between God's dealings with the world and God's dealing with me and King David and others like him - the troubles we have.
He goes on, the Christian, says this, "How doth God know? And is there knowledge in the most High" (verse 11)? You can understand this can't you? When a Christian who comes to faith in Christ and has his sins forgiven, when he sees how the wicked have gone in their way do better, in some respects, than the believer in his way. At least in this world, in this present life, you can see how he's tempted to say, "Why ever did I become a believer, if I'm going to have to suffer all these things." He's offended for a time, he loses his balance like a man who is walking in the street and suddenly he some how slips and his feet are entangled one with another.
He says this, "But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped" (verse 2). Now from our experience of slipping on ice or seeing others have this experience, it becomes very easy to lose our balance and that's what he was doing in a mental sense. He'd lost his balance, and he was envious of wicked men and women who are prospering.
Then he begins to talk to himself, "Verily I have cleansed my heart in vain, and washed my hands in innocency" (verse 13). What does he mean? He means this: it's a waste of time being godly. It's a waste of time going to church. It's a waste of time reading the Bible, because we who do this have more trouble than those who don't. Look how happy they are going up and down the street robbing, killing, stealing, swearing, getting their own way. They are better off than I am. Why then should I be godly and they godless, and God doesn't pay any attention. Is there a God at all? Where is He that looks down from heaven upon this wicked human scene? Does He not know these things? Does He not have knowledge? Is God blind? That's the situation He came to. "For all the day long have I been plagued, and chastened every morning" (verse 14). He means there that every day he lives, it is a hard thing to live right.
This is true by the way. Every true Christian finds that the way to heaven is a difficult route. Every decision we take has to be thought about. Every word we say, if we are wise, we have to measure it. Is it wise to say this or should I keep it back? Should I go here or there? Should I do this or that? That's the way a Christian is thinking; he's measuring every action wondering if it will glorify God, help other people, or hinder them.
Now the world doesn't think like that. They say whatever comes to their mind or to their mouth. He says O I find this so difficult, "When I thought to know this, it was too painful for me" (verse 16). Well, that's the experience, and it is not confined to this good man. It's something that many godly people have been tempted to think, but now when we come to verse seventeen and following he gives us the explanation and shows us how he got out of his wrong state of mind. He explains to us what it was that changed his thinking back into the right pattern and back into the right way.
We need to come to God's house. Can I make this point my dear friends? There are always many hidden benefits of coming to the house of God, many. I can recall the young wife once saying to me in another situation, not this one here, but one in another place. She said to me, "My husband sometimes comes to church and when he does it has a good effect upon him and when he stops coming you can see the difference, because the teaching of the word of God has an affect upon his nature and his character." That was her way of putting it, and this is Asaph's way of putting it. We need to go to God's house to see the answer to these problems.
And so he tells us, "When I thought this, it was too painful for me" (verse 16). Until...that's the turning point...until what? "Until I went to the sanctuary of God; then understood I their end" (verse 17). When I came to church, as we would say in modern parlance, when I came to the house of God and sat down and opened my Bible and heard the preaching than I began to understand. Now that's often true. It's when we come to the house of God, we get help with our problems. Those who never go to the house of God, they never get help with their lives. They live and die in ignorance of all the great and important things.
If I can repeat what I sometimes say in evangelistic preaching, there are three great things that every unconverted man really doesn't know of or understand because he doesn't know his Bible. He doesn't know where he came from, he doesn't know why he's here in this life, and he doesn't know where he's going. The poor man is living in darkness. It's only when you come to the house of God and study the Bible you understand the answer to these great, transcendently great, questions. How did I get into this world? Why am I here? What's the purpose of life and where shall I be when I die? These are the great questions of life. If we don't know the answer to these, than we are living like worms in the ground in darkness. But when we come to the house of God we get answers to these questions.
What is the answer? Well, he tells us in verse seventeen, this was the turning point in my thinking, when I sat down in the house of God then I understood their end. What does he mean? Of course, he means I remember then what's going to happen to these prospering wicked people when they die. That's the important difference between the righteous and the godly - their end. My dear friend, are you able to see this for yourself? I'm speaking to friends right here in this room. Have you all understood this point? That a godly man or woman when they die their soul goes to glory and all their troubles are over. They are in everlasting peace. But when the wicked dies, when the unbeliever dies, when the Christless person of this world dies, they don't go to heaven they go somewhere else. They go into fire under damnation, under the wrath and curse of God.
That's what Asaph now remembers and reminds himself of. He forgot it for a long time as he saw this world speeding by with happiness written all over their faces, with happiness and success and everything their hearts could wish for and yet cursing and blaspheming for all they were worth. He wondered how could God allow that to go on, but when he came to the house of the God he understood this great mystery of providence, and how God often gives more to the unconverted in this world than he gives to His own dear children who love Him. The reason is, of course, that God reserves the best things for the end.
Do you know Pilgrim's Progress? There you'll find in the house of the interpreter two boys. Do you remember them? In the house of the interpreter, one was called patience and the other boy was called passion. Passion wanted all of his good things now. He wanted the toys and he wanted the pleasures and he wanted them poured at his feet. So he got his hearts desire and somebody came along and poured all these good things at his feet. He was delighted and immediately began playing with all these nice things as a boy. But then all his good things slowly faded away, and he had nothing left.
On the other hand, patience was quietly waiting for his good things. He wasn't wanting anything now; he was wanting it in God's good time. When passion had finished with all his happiness, patience then received his good things that were never going to be taken away. That is the parable of the unconverted man and the converted man. The converted man is waiting for his good things. That's where he going to get them - in heaven, in glory.
And so that's what Asaph sees. Listen to the way he puts it, "Surely thou didst set them in slippery places: thou castedst them down into destruction" (verse 18). These are terrible words. It's very hard for me to read them without emotion and feeling. Just think of it. Our fellow man, some of them related to ourselves in this world. He says, "Thou didst set them in slippery places" (verse 18). What he means is that all the good things that worldly people have are insecure; they can lose them in a moment. All it takes is a car crash and their life is gone. All it takes is a heart attack or a stroke or any of these things or all of them put together and then they die and their soul goes into eternity and this is what he says to God, "Thou castedst them down into destruction" (verse 18).
You know we can't wish away the doctrine of hell. There are some people who don't believe in hell. Even some who are professing Christians and ministers. If I have some of those people in front of me right now, they would be outraged by what I'm saying to you. They would absolutely object to every word I'm saying to you. They would say you've no right to tell people about hell. But my dearly beloved friends, if the Bible tells us about hell, no preacher has the right to suppress that. It's not a kindness to pretend that hell is not there when it's in the Bible - not just in this verse but all the way through. If you doubt it, I'll give you the references to take home and study. I can assure you that nobody speaks more about hell than Jesus Christ.
Here it is in this Psalm written by Asaph. "Thou castedst them down to destruction" (verse 18). In other words, when a wicked man dies, he could have been ever so rich and ever so famous and ever so great and ever so healthy and whatever else, but as soon as he dies I'll tell you what happens. God takes his immortal soul and does this, "BE GONE," and he goes into hell fire forever. He doesn't get out except in the day of resurrection and he gets his body back and God says sends him body and soul - Both - after the judgment day. Asaph forgot that and when he remembered these things he could have wept at his own stupidity as he tells us in a little while.
He goes on you see, "As a dream when one awaketh, so, O Lord, when thou awakest, thou shalt despise their image" (verse 20). He's describing what God is going to do to the wicked when they die. There end, there latter end, as the Bible puts it, God will despise their image. I suppose an illustration might help us here. Supposing you're in an art gallery and there are these fine photographs mounted on the wall or oil paintings if you prefer all along the wall. Somebody comes along and lifts one off. He gets a hammer, and he smashes the hammer against the glass until the whole thing is in ruins. Let's imagine it's a photograph of a wellknown person, perhaps a former prime minister or a king or someone. He takes it off the wall and smashes it too pieces. That's what God will do with the wicked; he will take his soul and smash it to pieces and cast him into eternal punishment. That is what the Bible tells us, not just here but everywhere.
Listen to Jesus' words about hell, "It is a place where the worm dies not and the fire shall never be quenched" (Mark 9). He says that three times over at the end of chapter nine in Mark's gospel. Chapter eight or chapter nine in Mark's gospel three times over Jesus says, "The worm shall never die and the fire shall never go out" (Mark 8 & 9).
When Asaph looks at all of this, he begins to be ashamed. He thinks about his own stupidity, "Thus my heart was grieved and I was pricked in my reins. So foolish was I, and ignorant: I was as a beast before thee" (verse 21 & 22). What does that mean? Well, it means that the way I used to think about it until I came to the house of God was just so ignorant it's as though I had no more sense than a cow or a dog or some domesticated animal in the field, because they have no knowledge at all of these things as we well understand. Asaph says, "I was like a beast before thee" (verse 22), O God, I've forgotten all these things. I knew this, but I forgot it and I lost my balance. My feet were nearly slipping because I didn't like to see the wicked prospering and I forgot there end.
Oh, my excellent friends, let me remind you how some great men have ended up. Do you remember Pharaoh who defied God, "I know not the Lord; neither will I let Israel go," he said. The red sea crushed him to pieces. Do you remember at the exodus? Maybe we can think of King Saul, the first king of Israel, who hated David and persecuted him and was killed in battle; he came to his end. Or Nebuchadnezzar who boasted about his great city of Babylon. Until God sent upon him a rare disease by which he went on all fours like a beast eating grass. Or Herod in Acts 12 who gave a great oration and the people cried out this is not the voice of a man at all but the voice of God they said and the Lord smote him and he was eaten of worms. Their latter end, their end, the end of their life, their judgment and these wicked people are still suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. But that's the lesson Asaph learned, let it be a lesson that you and I remember.
As I close in a moment, I want to say just one more thing first. We are told at the end of this Psalm about the end of the godly, "Nevertheless I am continually with thee: thou hast holden me by my right hand. Thou shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but thee? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides thee. My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever" (verse 23-26). He is thinking now of the end of the righteous; the way a Christian will be in the end after his death, indeed to some extent even now in this world. What will God do? He will take us by the hand. He will guide us with His counsel and receive us at last into glory. He is our companion if we are a Christian. God is with us now helping us through life, taking us by the right hand and escorting us through life's trial. No matter what trials you have Christian, the Lord will hold your hand and guide you through the difficulties. He is the pilot that guides the ship of life through all the dangerous zones that lie before us. He will give us grace and glory. He will receive us at last into heaven.
"Whom have I in heaven but Thee? There is none upon earth that I desire besides Thee" (verse 25). That's the way every Christian talks and if you can talk like that you are a Christian. Search your heart dear hero this evening and say to yourself, "Is God more precious to me than my wife, my child, my house, my job, my ambition?" "Is God more to me than everything else?" If you can truly say that, than you are a Christian. Nobody else can say that and that's what we ought to say; that's what we ought to be able to say. We are to hate father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child, every one, every thing. If our own life compared with God we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength and our neighbour as ourself. God is our supreme desire.
You see it's not that the Christian when he dies wants to have a big house like the wicked in this world. It's not that the Christian when he dies wants to have a life of ease and comfort and so on in another world. He will get all of these things but that's not what he's ambitious to have. What the Christian wants when he goes out of this world into heaven is - he wants God. God is more than heaven and if we can have heaven without God, heaven will be disappointing to the Christian. If the Christian arrived in heaven and found that God wasn't there, he would say, "Where is God" and it would break his heart if he didn't find God. The Christian would rather have God without heaven if that were possible than heaven without God. Because God is the life of our life, the life of our soul, he is the object of all our aspirations and desires once we are converted.
Ah,but God is very good to His own people. He will have us in glory and he will bring us there safely through this world. And if there are people or any of you here and you are not yet converted, not yet in the faith, let me close by telling you the way to begin this godly life is to go through the door. And the door into this godly life is Jesus Christ and Him crucified. You should go in right now. What's to stop you going in right now? You say, "What do you mean where is this door how can I go through?" Well, I'll tell you as you're sitting there you can say in your heart, "Lord bring me to the door by which I may go through into that wonderful life of the believer the Christian life so that I too may have grace and at last have glory."
As I close I remember a gentlemen in a city further south from here and he once had me speak about the need to be born again I think my beloved friend, Mr. Norman Campbell, was with me on the occasion of a funeral. And the gentlemen heard me speak about the need to be born again. He didn't like what he heard but a few days later, as he told me later himself, he said, "I must get this straight." He was at his work and he did something like this, he said, "O God, show me if this is true - in need of the new birth - show me if this is true." God did there and then on his own admission and he said I had an experience like Saint Paul and he saw Christ was the door. That's what you need to see, my dear friend, and when you go through that door then you will become a child of God on the way to heaven and then you'll be able to see that all that the worldly have in this life is as dust and dung compared to the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord. O happy Christian that has the main thing that will never be taken away from you.
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