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Envying the Wicked

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Text: Ps 73

Theme: Thought things are messed up, they will be made right.

Doctrine: Providence

Image: riches of wicked, poverty of righteous

Need: encouragement

Message: look at life from God's perspective

Envying the Wicked

Psalm 73


Last summer I met Mark, a middle aged man with a mental illness. He had been repeatedly admitted to Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services in Grand Rapids, MI. The psychiatrists would get his medications settled, and get him stable, and he would be released. The next few weeks would go well, until he ran into a certain person from his church. This person would tell him that he did not need the medications. If they prayed together, and if Mark believed hard enough, then God would heal him, and he would not need to take his pills. “In fact”, this person said, “taking your medication is a sign that you do not have enough faith in God.” So, Mark would stop taking his medication. He might be alright for another week or two, but he would shortly turn back up on the doorstep of Pine Rest.

The message this person is presenting is very attractive. The idea that if we believe enough, pray enough, and have enough faith, everything will go well with us is very attractive. It even seems to have Biblical support. Listen to the Word of God from Deuteronomy 7:12-15

12 If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then the Lord your God will keep his covenant of love with you, as he swore to your forefathers. 13 He will love you and bless you and increase your numbers. He will bless the fruit of your womb, the crops of your land—your grain, new wine and oil—the calves of your herds and the lambs of your flocks in the land that he swore to your forefathers to give you. 14 You will be blessed more than any other people; none of your men or women will be childless, nor any of your livestock without young. 15 The Lord will keep you free from every disease. He will not inflict on you the horrible diseases you knew in Egypt, but he will inflict them on all who hate you.

It looks like God promises us love and support, even health and wealth, if we listen to him and obey him. This passage seems to promise that God will certainly bless those who follow him, and curse those who do not.

I almost slipped when I saw the prosperity of the wicked

It is easy to see how the Israelites struggled with their daily experience in light of these vows. They had the promises from God that if they followed his commands, they would be blessed, but if they did not follow God's commands, then they would be punished. However, when they looked at the world, it seemed as though the righteous were punished, and the wicked were blessed. This is what the psalmist is thinking about when he writes this Psalm.

The author begins with a statement of faith, much like we did with the Apostle's Creed. We said that we believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. The Heidelberg Catechism LD 9, Q&A 26 expands this statement for us. It says;

“26 Q: What do you believe when you say, “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth”?

A: That the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ his Son. I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world. He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.”

This is quite a statement about the work of God in the world, and in our lives. Can we really agree with everything that is in is? Are there not times when we look out at the world and wonder if God has taken an holiday? Do you not wonder sometimes why things happen the way they do? Why do people who thumb their noses at God never seem to have any problems, while those who trust in him completely never seem to get ahead? Can we truly say that we “do not doubt he will provide whatever [we] need for body and soul”?

The Psalmist has a similar statement of faith; “Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But it seems he is having trouble believing it as well. He says, “But as for me, my feet had almost slipped, I had nearly lost my foothold.” Based on his experiences he begins to wonder about this statement of faith. The wicked seem to prosper. God is good to the wrong people! Eugene Peterson, in The Message pictures the wicked this way:

“Pretentious with arrogance, they wear the latest fashions in violence, pampered and overfed, decked out in silk bows of silliness. They jeer, using words to kill; they bully their way with words. They're full of hot air, loud-mouths disturbing the peace. People actually listen to them—can you believe it? Like thirsty puppies, they lap up their words.”

The psalmist almost slipped because he began to envy these people, these arrogant people who are so prosperous. He began to think that they had things better than he did. He envied them, he wanted to destroy what they had because he did not have it. He was not just jealous, he was envious. Like the Grinch looking out over the Whos, he wanted to take away from others what he did not have himself.

What did he envy? What prosperity did he see that was so attractive? Well, what do we see when we look at the ungodly of our world? Who are we jealous of? Who are we envious of? We are jealous of people who do not seem to deserve the blessings they accumulate. How can  a jerk like Donald Trump be blessed with so much wealth and privilege?  We are envious of the success of the wicked, of those who do not trust in God, and it causes us to doubt in God.

We all experience this at some level. The business man is put out that he has to charge less than his competitors because they are willing to give cash deals and cheat the government of the taxes they are due. The housewife covets the extra time that her neighbour has which is produced by selfishly placing her own wants over her family's needs. The child in grade school envies the ease with which his classmate pilfers candy from the local grocery store. The child in high school envies her friend for her star athlete boyfriend, who was obtained by being a little free with her morals. Her classmate envies the fun that his friends seem to be having when they go out drinking all night. Those who try to live righteous lives miss out on all the money that could be made by cheating the government. We miss out on all the 'fun' that is could be had in this life by letting go of our inhibitions. We cry out with the psalmist, “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.”

It does not seem that God is true to his promises. Things seem to be backwards. The people of God were promised blessings, and yet they suffer. How can God let the wicked get away with what they do? Why do they not get what is coming to them? I thought God was just? I thought that he gave to each person their due? I thought that if we followed him, he would bless us. I thought the prayer of Jabez told us that all we need is courage to ask for the things that we want, and then we will get it. After all, Jesus said that all we had to do was ask at it would be given to us. Matthew 7:7-8 (ESV) “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”

Some of the preachers on TV seem to compare God to a big ATM. If you put the right thing in, true ardent faith, then you will get out what you want, health, wealth, fame, family, ... the list goes on. “God is waiting to bless you”, they say, “he wants to give you health and wealth, all you have to do is believe, and ask.” When you point out that this does not always happen, that there are people in the world who are true righteous believers, but do not have health or wealth; they take the side of Job's friends and say that their must be something wrong with that person, they must be hiding some secret sin, or maybe they just do not have enough faith.

This cannot be right, though, can it?

But then I entered the sanctuary of the LORD

When we try to figure this out we get more and more confused. Things just do not seem to add up. Sitting at home going over our bills, wondering if we can make the next rent payment, or if we will have enough for college for our kids, we simply cannot figure things out. But then we come to church, and come face to face with God. Listen to the rest of Psalm 73.

Psalm 73:14-28 (NIV)

14     All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.

15     If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.

16     When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me

17     till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

18     Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.

19     How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!

20     As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord,

you will despise them as fantasies.

21     When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

22     I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23     Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

24     You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

25     Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26     My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

27     Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28     But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge;

I will tell of all your deeds.

Why does coming to church make any difference? Because here we come in contact with God and his word. We hear the true things that are said about him. We hear of the unfailing love that he has for us, of the care that he provides for us. We hear that the wicked are not going to get off scot free. We hear that there will be a final reckoning. We hear that the wicked are suddenly destroyed, they are completely swept away by terrors.  The prosperity that they gain so freely becomes a burden to them. They are constantly worried that others are trying to scam them the same way that they scammed others.

The comfort of the righteous is not that God will give us material blessings here and now. Sometimes he does chose to do so. Sometimes he gives us health and wealth beyond our wildest dreams. Sometimes, however, he does not. In fact, Jesus promises that his followers will encounter persecution, trial, hardship, famine, and sword. But our comfort is in this place, in this room, in this sanctuary of God, because here we are assured of God's love for us. Here we are reminded that even when we are grieved and embittered, God is always with us, he holds us by our right hand.

When Jesus told us that we had to ask, seek, and knock, he told us that we would get good things from the Father in heaven. “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” We do always get what we ask for because we do not always ask for what would be good for us. God is good to us. God is the best Father a person can have. Every day, when my son Asher tests my patience, I am amazed at the love of God.

God is our strength and our fortress, of whom do we fear? God guides us with his counsel, and in the end, when all is said and done, when we go to meet our maker and give an accounting for the deeds we have done, he will take us into glory. He will accept us as his returning children. He will place a ring on our finger, a robe on our back, and sandals on our feet, because he will restore us to our inheritance. He will overlook our sins because they have been paid for by Christ.

Listen again to the love the psalmist has for his God.

Psalm 73:14-28 (NIV)

21     When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

22     I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23     Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

24     You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

25     Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26     My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart

and my portion forever.

Whom do we have in heaven? To whom can we turn when we realise that we are unworthy before God? Jesus Christ, the ultimate High Priest, flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the sacrificial lamb of God given on behalf of our sins. That is whom we have in heaven. That is why we can say with Paul, ““But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having fa righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith. Philippians 3:7-9 (ESV)” We are welcomed into glory because Jesus paid our sacrifice, and sits at the right hand of the throne of God, interceding on our behalf.


 The destiny of the wicked is ruin. Those who are far from God will perish, because God is life. They will be destroyed because they do not know Christ, he will say, “Away from me evildoer, for I never knew you.” But the faithful, the righteous, those whom God has chosen and called for himself, those who have come to see Christ as their Lord and Saviour, those who have been given the gift of the Spirit which helps them cry out to God, “Abba, Father!” They make the Sovereign Lord their refuge. Though it may appear as though the wicked get away with murder, there will be a reckoning, and the righteous will be rewarded for their faith and trust in God. We say with the psalmist;

“But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

Go, then, with God's grace and tell the world of his deeds for you.


Let us pray

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