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8823 What's In It for the Righteous

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Scr:  Ps 11 (1-3 Leader, 4-6 People, 7 All)

Hym:      2  All Creatures of Our God and King

      538  Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Ill:  Jacob and Esau (from Esau's point of view).  Fooled father but couldn't fool God.  God will always know you and take care of you. 


A.    What good does it do to be good?

Psalm 10

Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?

  Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,

  who are caught in the schemes he devises.

He boasts of the cravings of his heart;

  he blesses the greedy and reviles the LORD.

We don't have to look very far to see many illustrations of innocent suffering.

1.    Good guys suffer too.

eg  Iranian civilian plane shot down.

This week during bright midday sunshine a group of family and friends waved good-bye in an airport.  For many it was a familiar happening since those leaving worked away from home and this was their commuter flight to work.  Their destination twenty minutes away, passengers hardly had time to settle down and get comfortable before deplaning.  Just another day like so many other days, another flight like so many they'd taken before that all seemed well.

Until, with no on-board warning, a huge explosion shattered the plane and all aboard fell to their death.  What a tragedy! 

Surveys show that most Americans believe the US Navy captain made the right choice when he ordered the plane shot down.  Ignored warnings, contradicting transponder signals, all in the heat of battle, led him to believe this plane was an attack bomber.  Because of that confused identity 290 civilians in this civilian airbus died.

Now we hear confirmation of rumored overtures that Iran was seeking direct dialogue with representatives from the United States to work toward settlement of differences.  Just as they were trying to work toward peace the Iranian nation, like their ill fated airbus, plunged toward hostility and resentment again.

eg  Famine in Africa.

We know of others who've starved to death because they got caught in the middle of someone else's fight.  Some of the food sent to famine ravaged Africa never reached the areas for which it was intended.  Waring tribes held control over parts of the supply route and refused to let provisions pass.  So innocent people, who tried to keep from taking sides, died.  What good does it do to be good?

eg  AIDS contracted by a few health workers.

You're aware that a few health workers have contracted AIDS.  Not many, and only by accident:  pricking themselves with a needle, for example.  But how sad that even those who commit themselves to a life of saving life cannot do so without concern.  Even if their own lives are spotless and their own bodies free from disease they have to take precautions to protect themselves from those they wish to help.  What good does it do to be good?

eg  Christian's crops shriveling from draught.

And what of the promises that God will take care of His followers?  That if you pay tithe, for instance, your storehouse will be full?  How is God fulfilling that promise in the draught-ridden Midwest this year?  Christian's grain bins are projected to be no more full than those of non-Christians.  Christian farmers are suffering just like non-Christians.  Are there no rewards for the righteous?

2.    Saved by the judge.

Where is God when we really need Him?  That's the first question we Christians obviously ask during hard times.  I devoted several Sabbath's to a discussion of it some time ago.  We talked about the difference between God's ultimate wishes and His will under very limiting circumstances.  If you're interested in a review of those sermons I'll be glad to share them with you.

But today I want to explore a second frustration that you're certainly aware of even if you haven't consciously connected it with the first.  While God may seem frustratingly absent from the righteous now,  His presence looms ominously over their future.  I say ominously because the righteous know they face the judgment and they care about what happens.  They want God to judge them as His faithful followers.  How can they be sure God will recognize them as righteous?  That's the question.  What can they do to make certain they aren't confused with the bad guys?  That God doesn't mix them up with the wrong crowd?  That they aren't mistaken for the enemy and shot down before they have opportunity to properly identify themselves?

That ultimate anxiety isn't quieted when it seems that God can't keep things straight even now.  You see, if God would show us now, by selectively protecting the righteous, that He recognized the difference between us and the rest of the world we would be a lot more relaxed about the judgment.  But when we stack up illustrations like those we've discussed we find little to give us comfort.  How can we eagerly anticipate judgment by a God who seems so unconcerned about us now?  Will not that judgment only perpetuate God's indifference or rejection which we already experience?

Can you see how the fact or lack of God's care in the present creates fears about being in God's presence in the future?  We're afraid of the judgment and for good reason.  If God doesn't care enough to help us now, why trust Him with our eternity?

B.    Psalm 11 

1.    Introduction

The questions aren't new, of course.  And the answers, I confess, are confusing.  The Psalmists struggled with these issues and offer a variety of responses.  At times they boldly promise prosperity if you obey God.  Look at our call to worship today, for example, #813.  Here in the 15th Psalm David says the one who does what is righteous won't be shaken (vss 2 and 5).

But at other times psalmists like David point out how they're doing all the right things but nothing works out like it's supposed to.

Recently while listening to the early Psalms this paradox hit me in a new way and resolved itself in the surprising imagery of Psalm 11.  Perhaps what struck me about Psalm 11 can help you answer the questions you have about God:  whether it's grieving Iranian families, innocent people starving in a world full of food, Christian's suffering in spite of their commitment, or much more personal things like why you don't have enough money, or a happy family, or can't learn what you need to learn in this class, or can't get the job you want.

2.    Background--struggle against opponents.

The Psalms are a compilation of individual poems and songs.  Several authors wrote them; some authors are identified and some aren't.  And, while they aren't arranged in topical order, it is interesting to notice that several of the early Psalms describe a struggle between good and evil.

eg  Ps 3:1  many foes and God won't deliver

eg  Ps 4:1-2  enemies, 3-5 call to trust God, 6-7 expression of hope, 8 trust.

eg  Ps 6:1-7  groaning and crying, 8-10 Christ comes to rescue.

3.    Major question in early Psalms:  will God rescue righteous from the wicked?

a.    Are many other psalms where God protects the righteous.

eg  Ps 1  righteous vs wicked with promise of protection at end.

b.    Theme question most poignantly expressed in Ps 10.

eg  Ps 10:1-13  Raises the poignant question.

C.    What good does it do to be good?

1.    My cold this week. 

a.    Tues telling Shannon I'd been careful about foods, etc.

b.    Why, when I'd been doing everything right?

2.    Wrong question.  Not why? but what now?

eg  What's the best way for me to cope with things as they are?

eg  How can I find God's care in these circumstances?

eg  How can I believe that God still cares for me?

eg  How can I best witness when the data is so confusing?

D.    Ps 11:1  Refuge .

In present find comfort in God even though circumstances are painful and confusing.  Matter of choice, orientation.

E.    Ps 11:4  Language of heavenly throne room/judgment hall.

Second suggestion comes in the language of verse 4.

eg  In His holy temple (4)

eg  On His heavenly throne (4)

eg  He observes/examines sons of men (4)

1.    Similar to Revelation.

eg  4:2  throne in heaven and someone sitting on it

eg  4:8  four living creatures singing "Holy, Holy, Holy"

eg  7:13-17  Those in white robes will be protected

eg  11:18  Time has come for judging the dead and rewarding the servants and saints.

eg  14:6-12  1st angel = hour of judgment, 3rd angel = punishment for wicked, reward for righteousness.

F.    God saves His followers via judgment.

1.    Not ignoring their problems.

2.    Observation isn't to condemn but to protect.

Note contrast to evil ones whom He hates and (implied) ignores/doesn't observe.

3.    Other texts support that view.

eg  Ecc 8:12  Even though wicked live long time, will be better for righteousness.

4.    Rewards are not the best motive.

eg  Ecc 8:14, 15  meaningless:  righteous get what wicked deserve and wicked get what righteous deserve, so eat, drink and enjoy life.

a.    vs 15 makes it difficult; sounds like forget future and live up in present.

Theme song for party animals.

eg  Student approaching me about grade.  Didn't want to do work on overdue assignment unless it would change his grade.

b.    Means instead preoccupation with future rewards not good enough for present choices.

¥     Live life now for more than temporal reasons.

¥     Because right, not more fun.

¥     Because just, not because makes you rich.

¥     Because truthful, not because keeps you out of trouble.

¥     Because fulfilling, not because it's easy.

5.    Present reward = being with God in an evil world.

Looking for immediate payoff is wrong approach.

Maintaining confidence in God, in spite of the presence of evil, is the real challenge.

6.    Judgment is good news (gospel, Rev 14:6)

a.    Promises salvation for righteous

b.    Validates confidence in God.

c.    In the meantime--

Guide me, O though great Jehovah

  Pilgrim through this barren land

I am weak but thou are mighty

  Hold me with thy powerful hand.


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