Psalm 1 sermon

A 5-minute sermon on Psalm 1 that I wrote for a preaching workshop. I have to acknowledge massive debts to Paul Blackham and Glen Scrivener for much of the material.

Psalm 1

1Blessed is the man[a]
   who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
   nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2but his delight is in the law[b] 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 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.

I don’t know what your reaction was just now, as Psalm 1 was read for us.  I think it’s easy when we read this Psalm – certainly I find it easy – to read it as a straight contrast between ‘good people’ and ‘bad people’. Good people in the first half, who ‘don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked’ (v.1) and who ‘meditate on God’s law day and night’ (v2).  And then there are the bad people in the second half, the ‘wicked’ (v.4).

Two groups: …good people… and bad people. And if that’s how I’m thinking then how I respond to the Psalm will be determined by whether I’m feeling righteous at the moment. If I think I’m doing OK – I had my quiet time this morning, I haven’t argued with my flatmates, I’ve done the washing up…then I read it and feel pretty happy. Look at that – verse 3 says I’m a tree! And God is watching over me, v.6.

But when I’m not feeling so righteous? What do I do with this Psalm on the days when I skipped my quiet time to get an extra half-hour in bed, yelled at my flatmates and left my breakfast dishes dirty in the sink? Then I read this Psalm and find myself in the second half, with the wicked, and feel condemned.

Worse than that, I know that if I were honest with myself I would always find myself in the second half.Because as I read verses 1-3, I know that that’s not me. I don’t match up. The standards are too high. So I read this Psalm and what I find out is that I’m ‘chaff’ (v4), and I deserve to perish at God’s judgement (v5). And that’s terrifying. So, is condemnation the only thing that Psalm 1 has to offer us?

Well, I don’t think it is, and the reason for that lies in the identity of the Righteous One in v1-3. Because I think it’s important that we notice that Ps 1 doesn’t compare two groups of people, it compares a group of people – the wicked – with an individual: ‘the Man’ in v.1. And I think that that gives us a clue about what the Psalmist is saying. Because as I said before, I don’t meet this Psalm’s standards for righteousness, but Jesus did. Psalm 1 was written at a time when God’s people were waiting for the promised Messiah. He was going to be the perfect covenant-keeper and turn the hearts of God’s people back to Him. As we’ll see, Jesus is the perfect Righteous Man of Psalm 1, and that means that we can have hope.

So let’s look again at how Psalm 1 describes this Righteous Man. We’re told He refuses to go along with those who want to do evil. He ‘does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers’. His life is perfectly moulded by God’s Word, instead. We’re not even talking about being an ‘every-morning-without-fail quiet-timer’: The Blessed man’s ‘delight is in the Law of the LORD and….He meditates on it day and night’. In the Old Testament, constant meditating on God’s Word was supposed to define the kings of Israel. Psalm 1 is describing the perfect example of the King, the coming Messiah.

As we move onto v. 3, we can see that the result of all the Righteous Man’s holiness and delighting in God’s Word is that He lives a life of lavish fruitfulness that overflows to others: ‘He’s like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever He does prospers’.

So we’ve seen, first, that the Righteous Man keeps the covenant perfectly, both by avoiding evil and by delighting in God’s law and second, that He has life in Himself that overflows to others. By God’s grace, as Christians we all get to have these things in our lives in increasing amounts…but only as we look to Jesus, the perfect ‘Righteous One’.

When we see that the Righteous Man in v.1-3 is the Messiah, Jesus Christ, we can see the Psalmist is saying that we have a choice, but not the choice we instinctively think. Not: ‘act righteously and live, or join the wicked and perish’. Instead, it’s ‘choose to throw your lot in with the wicked – in which case you’ll face judgement – or choose to throw your lot in with the Righteous One’. When we look to Jesus, the Righteous One, we’ll find that His abundant life and fruitfulness will overflow into our lives and reshape us in His image to be more and more righteous.

As this Psalm was read, I don’t know where you thought you fitted. Did you hear v.1-3 and think ‘yup, that’s me, I do the right thing most of the time’, or were you thinking ‘help, my life is such a mess, my heart isn’t right… I can’t reach those standards’? Whichever our natural response, this Psalm redirects our focus from ourselves – am I righteous enough? – to Jesus …and He’s the perfect Righteous One. If you’re a Christian here today look to Jesus the Righteous One and praise God for this picture of His flawless beauty and for providing us with such a perfect, covenant-keeping Saviour. Resting in Jesus righteousness we can claim the blessings of this Psalm whether we’re having the best or the worst of days. If you don’t yet know Jesus, the Righteous One, I’d urge you to find out more about Him. Without Him, the Psalmist says we’re all just chaff, but in Him is perfect, abundant life.

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