Faithlife Sermons

Ransomed from a False God

Summer Psalms 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:43
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Only Jesus can ransom us from our bondage to the false god of wealth.

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I recently came across a story about a research study some years ago that explored the way people related to their eating habits. The researchers gathered a bunch of people and gave them notebooks with instructions to log every food they ate for the next two weeks. Whenever they ate a meal, they wrote down what they ate, how much, and what time they ate. And throughout the day as well: If they ate a Snickers bar at 3 o’clock on Tuesday, they wrote down “Snickers bar at 3 o’clock”, and so on.
At the end of the two week period, the researchers collected the journals and then took all the participants to a residential facility, and for the next two weeks they fed them exactly what they had recorded eating for the previous two weeks! So at 3 o’clock on Tuesday, if you wrote down a Snickers bar, the researcher would come into your dorm room and hand you a Snickers bar. And at the end of that two-week period, what do you suppose had happened? Everyone in the study lost a bunch of weight, because now they were actually eating what they said they had been eating the first time around!
Now as amusing as that story is, it illustrates something very profound about human nature: We have a great capacity to deceive ourselves when it comes to our appetites! I don’t think that anyone in that study believed they were lying to the researchers in their food journals—in fact, none of them were likely even aware that they were lying to themselves!
I think that’s an important reminder for us as we move into Psalm 49, because if we are not careful, we may find that we fit the satirical description for a “Christian” in Ambrose Bierce’s book, The Devil’s Dictionary: “Christian, noun. One who believes the Bible is an inspired book, admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor”.
This psalm is a stern warning against trusting the false promises of wealth. And, like good Christians, right away we start sagely nodding our heads, quoting 1 Timothy 6:10:
1 Timothy 6:10 ESV
10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.
And we know the old sayings, “There are no pockets in a shroud”, “You’ll never see a U-Haul hitch on a hearse”, and so on.
But just like our friends with the food diaries who didn’t quite write down everything they ate,
When it comes to our attitudes towards wealth, we are capable of deceiving ourselves.
Take stock of your own heart this morning, when it comes to your attitudes towards wealth. Sure, you’re happy to stipulate everything we’ve just said—love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, money can’t buy happiness, you can’t trust wealth to save you.
But when was the last time you stayed awake all night worrying about your bank balance? When was the last time you looked at your neighbor’s beautiful home and resented the fact that you “can’t have nice things”? How many fights have broken out in your home over how much money is coming in, and where it’s going? How often do you ignore the offering plate when it comes your way because you don’t have any money to spare, and you need it to keep the lights on this week?
See, we’re not as accurate as we think we are in evaluating our appetites, are we? The fact is that every one of us struggles at one time or another with the fear that we don’t have enough money. But what the psalmist tells you today—and what I aim to show you from this passage—is that wealth is a false god that cannot keep the promises it makes to you. Wealth is a lying god that means to enslave you, it is a helpless god that cannot save you, and it is a treacherous god that will betray you. And what I want you to see this morning is that
Only God can ransom us from bondage to the false god of wealth.
The psalmist makes it clear right off the bat that this is a warning for everyone:
Psalm 49:1–2 ESV
1 Hear this, all peoples! Give ear, all inhabitants of the world, 2 both low and high, rich and poor together!
Warren Buffet might be sitting in his mansion today, saying to his soul (as in Jesus’ parable), “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry!” (Luke 12:19), but how many poverty-stricken people are lining up outside the convenience stores waiting to buy the next PowerBall ticket? Because they believe that wealth will answer all their prayers just as much as the rich man!
And note the psalmist says that “all peoples” should pay attention to him— “all the inhabitants of the world”. This warning is going out to all people—members of God’s covenant community and outsiders! Everyone is liable to be duped by the false promises of wealth.

I. Wealth is a Lying god that will enslave you

Look at verses 3-6:
Psalm 49:3–6 ESV
3 My mouth shall speak wisdom; the meditation of my heart shall be understanding. 4 I will incline my ear to a proverb; I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre. 5 Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me, 6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
The psalmist contrasts his words— “wisdom”, “understanding”, “solving a riddle” (lit., Heb, “dark saying”) with the iniquity and cheating of those who are enslaved to their wealth. The word “cheating” here is of someone who would “take insidious advantage” for the sake of gaining wealth.
It is amazing how quickly a person can be corrupted by the promise of wealth.
Be honest with yourself for a moment—how many times have you crossed a line you knew better than to cross because there was money on the other side of it? Just the tiniest pressure of the thumb on the scale, just a few extra minutes on the timesheet, just a few more dollars on the expense report. Harmless, right? They’ll never miss it, right? They owe me that anyway, right?
There is not a month that goes by when there is not another report on TV about another embezzlement scandal, some secretary who winds up in jail because they stole $30,000 dollars from the Little League account or something. But if you pay attention, you will find that every single one of them started off with “just a few dollars” that they paid right back the next month. They all thought they were in control.
But they weren’t, were they? But that’s the lie that money tells, isn’t it?
Wealth promises you success, but enslaves you to corruption.
The Scriptures are clear that there is no such thing as “no big deal” when cheating—even the tiniest amount—for the sake of money:
Proverbs 20:23 ESV
23 Unequal weights are an abomination to the Lord, and false scales are not good.
You start out with “just a couple of dollars—nobody will notice”. But God notices. And before you know it, “the deceitfulness of riches and desires for things” have dragged you across so many lines you said you would never cross and compromised your integrity so far that you become a person you never wanted to be--defrauding and cheating people you are supposed to be serving. Wealth is a lying god that will enslave you.
Second, the psalmist tells us that

II. Wealth is a helpless god that cannot save you

Look at verses 7-10:
Psalm 49:7–10 ESV
7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit. 10 For he sees that even the wise die; the fool and the stupid alike must perish and leave their wealth to others.
One pastor tells the tragic story of the 18th-Century French atheist Voltaire, an immensely wealthy man who was one of the harshest enemies of Christianity in Western history. He says,
“...when Voltaire came to die, it is reported that he cried to his doctor in pained desperation, ‘I will give you half of all I possess if you will give me six months more of life.’ But, of course, it was beyond the doctor’s ability to do that, and all Voltaire’s great wealth could not slow death’s advance. He died despairing.” (Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (p. 410). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.)
Wealth can protect you from a lot of hardships in your life, but in the end it cannot protect you when it really matters.
We hear the same sentiment expressed in the music of that great theologian of the 20th Century, Kerry Livgren:
Don't hang on / Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky / It slips away / And all your money won't another minute buy… (Dust in the Wind lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC)
When that moment comes—as it will come for each person sitting here in this room—all the money in the world will not give you one more second of life.
Wealth promises you security, but cannot keep you out of the grave.
The psalmist makes it clear that money can’t buy your way out of the grave—the only way to buy your way out of the grave is with the price of your life. But since you only have one life, once that’s gone you have nothing left! When the day comes that the grave opens up to take you in, all your wealth will be shown for the puny and pitiful god that it is—helpless to save you from death!
Wealth is a lying god that will enslave you, a helpless god that cannot save you, and third we see in verses 11-14,

III. Wealth is a treacherous god that will betray you

Look at what the psalmist says about the fate of those who trust in wealth to give them worth:
Psalm 49:11–14 ESV
11 Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they called lands by their own names. 12 Man in his pomp will not remain; he is like the beasts that perish. 13 This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah 14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
The psalmist paints a provocative picture in verse 11, of a rich man who creates a beautifully landscaped and manicured property and names it after himself. Think of the beautiful horse farms you see in Virginia and Kentucky—with miles of white three-board fence running for miles along the main road, stately live-oak trees (hanging with Spanish moss) lining a perfectly-manicured drive that leads up to a classical antebellum-style home. At the other end of the drive, where you enter the property, there’s a gate with a sign arching overhead the owner’s name incorporated into the name of the estate.
But the psalmist reminds us that
It is foolish to expect your wealth to give you any worth beyond the end of this life.
In the end, the only real estate with your name on it that will endure is the eight-foot by 2-1/2-foot patch of ground that has your name carved into a granite plaque at the head! That rancher may have collected an impressive herd of thoroughbreds throughout his lifetime, but he will go down to the pastures of Death to be shepherded by the Grave! He may have had a beautiful and elegant home to live in during his lifetime, but someday he will exchange that mansion for the formless and homeless dwelling of the grave. And that beautiful and elegant home will pass on to whoever bought it at the estate auction.
The psalmist carries this thought further in verses 16-20:
Psalm 49:16–20 ESV
16 Be not afraid when a man becomes rich, when the glory of his house increases. 17 For when he dies he will carry nothing away; his glory will not go down after him. 18 For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself— 19 his soul will go to the generation of his fathers, who will never again see light. 20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
You may spend your whole life impressing people with your house, your car, your wardrobe, your tech—but “when you die, you carry nothing away”—none of those impressive possessions will go with you! Remember the old bumper sticker from the ‘80’s— “He who dies with the most toys wins”? The psalmist is reminding us that “He who dies with the most toys still dies!
Wealth promises you glory, but abandons you to the worms.
In verse 20 he repeats the same refrain from earlier in verse 12:
Psalm 49:20 ESV
20 Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
There is no escape from the grave, and there is no glory that you can take with you there. So, he concludes, you are a fool if you chase after wealth in this life.
The entire psalm is an ominous warning about the lying, powerless, treacherous god of wealth—but there is one verse—verse 15—that stands out like a brilliant point of light in the gloomy darkness of the grave:
Psalm 49:15 ESV
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah
Where in the world does this come from? In the middle of these dire warnings about the insecurity of wealth, the psalmist interrupts himself, as if to say, “Look—if you trust in your riches to give you success, protection and glory, you will be sorely disappointed. But I have true wealth, because God will ransom me from Death itself!
And that’s all he says! This mysterious statement of confident faith that God will “ransom my soul from the power of Sheol”! Just a few verses earlier he warned that
Psalm 49:7–9 ESV
7 Truly no man can ransom another, or give to God the price of his life, 8 for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, 9 that he should live on forever and never see the pit.
So whoever is purchasing his soul out of death, it can’t be a mere mortal! The psalmist can’t say who, and he can’t say when, but he knows that God will provide a way for him to be delivered from the power of Sheol!
For you and I, that mystery has been brought to light, hasn’t it? Because we know Who has ransomed us from the Grave—we know the Name of the One who broke the gates of Sheol wide open! What this psalm can only tell us in hints and shadows, we have in full glory:

IV. Wealth is in Christ who Ransoms Us

When Jesus Christ ransoms your soul from the power of Sheol, He does what ransomers have always done—delivers your soul from bondage! The false god of wealth had you in its clutches, driving you as a slave-master: “You need to work harder, you need to make more money, or else I’ll starve you to death!” How many times has that desire to cut corners, to cheat, to cross that line into dishonesty, been driven by a fear of financial failure?
But see here that when Jesus Christ ransoms your soul, you are free from that fear! You don’t need to cheat, you don’t need to cut corners—because
When Jesus is your Treasure, you are free from bondage to wealth.
You can see through the lies of the false god of money—it may promise you success and power and protection from all harm, but you know better! You can rest when the money runs out before the month does, because you know that the God who ransomed you from the death penalty of your sin will certainly provide for your physical needs!
Romans 8:32 ESV
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
That doesn’t mean you’re careless, it doesn’t mean you’re a spendthrift, but it means that you are free from slavery to fear over money!
When Jesus Christ ransoms your soul from death, He sets you free from slavery to the false god of wealth.
When He is your Treasure, you are free from envy and bitterness over money.
How many times have you watched one of those real estate programs and seen the beautiful, elegant homes featured there, and then you turn off the set and are consumed with frustration and shame over your shabby little digs? How many families have blown apart after a funeral over the way an estate gets divided up, because “she shouldn’t have gotten that much” or “I deserved that more than he did!” Don’t you see how having Jesus as your treasure sets you free from all of that? Sure, someone else may get the house or the car or the cash—but the only reason anyone is getting them is because the owner couldn’t take it with them! So don’t bother being envious over who inherits what, because someday someone else is just going to inherit it from you!
But the inheritance that you have in Christ is eternal! As Peter writes,
1 Peter 1:3–4 ESV
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,
If you have that kind of eternal, perfect, glorious inheritance to look forward to, how in the world can you get worked up over who’s going to inherit the dining room set??
When Jesus Christ ransoms your soul from the false God of wealth, you are free from its lies, you are free from bitterness and striving over money. And you are free from the fear that you don’t have any protection from an unknown future! The false god of wealth wants to enslave you to fear of the future: “Without me, you won’t be protected from bad things happening to you!”
But Jesus Christ ransoms you from that lie:
When He is your Treasure, you are free from fear over the future.
There is a beautiful verse in the eighth chapter of John’s Gospel. Jesus is in the middle of disputing with the Pharisees over their disobedience and refusal to acknowledge that He is the Messiah. And in Verse 51, He tells them:
John 8:51 ESV
51 Truly, truly, I say to you, if anyone keeps my word, he will never see death.”
Think of it! That when you come to the moment that will come for all of us, when the grave opens up its jaws to swallow you, you won’t even see it! All you will see is Jesus, the One Who ransomed you from death, and ransomed you from the wrath of God over your sin! The one who paid the penalty for every line you’ve crossed, every lie you’ve ever told to get ahead, every motion of lust and envy and bitterness and cheating! Every time you succumbed to the temptation to fear not having enough money, every time you put your trust in the number of zeroes to the left of the decimal point in your bank balance, every fight you ever had with your spouse over money—all of it washed away by the cleansing blood of Jesus that He shed on that Cross!
Friend, if you are here today and you are still in bondage to the fear, the envy, the lies of the false god of wealth, can’t you see that there is a way out for you here? Because that day is coming—it is coming for every single one of us here in this room, and you can’t tell who it is coming for next. The old fairy tales are fond of stories of people bargaining with Death in one way or another so that they can be spared, but those stories are just that—fairy tales. Don’t stake your life on them, because the truth is that the grave is never satisfied—it will swallow all of your money, all of your possessions, all of your reputation and influence and power, and it will still have room to swallow you and leave nothing behind for anyone to even remember you.
The only way to be spared from death, the only way to be ransomed from the grave is to cry out to the one who paid that ransom, who “gave to God the price of His life” so that you can live forever, and never see the pit of death! Call out to Him today, believe that He died and went into that grave and then broke back out, rising again in power! Cry out to Him to ransom you from the penalty of your sin against a holy God, take Him as your greatest Treasure, and be free once and for all from the false god of wealth! Make this the day when you come—and welcome!—to Jesus Christ!
Ephesians 3:20–21 ESV
20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Questions for Reflection

How are you most tempted to believe the lies that wealth tells you? What does this psalm have to say about real wealth that helps you see through those lies?
Where have you “crossed the line” when it comes to money? Where is God showing you your need for repentance for the way you have handled money, or the way you have treated others regarding money?
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