The Old Atheists

Sermon by Gabe Fluhrer on Jul 10, 2016

Psalm 14

Good to see y’all. Good to have you if you’re visiting with us here this morning. If you’ve got your Bibles, turn to Psalm 14. We’ll be looking through this psalm together here this morning. Psalm 14. You’ll find it on page 453 if you’re using a pew Bible. Again, if you’re a visitor, good to have you with us. We’re glad you’re here. Psalm 14. Before we read it together, let’s pray and ask God’s blessing.

Father, we have a desperate need this morning that only You can fulfill. We need to hear from You and it’s so easy to have Your Word masked by frail deliverers, so we ask that the one who preaches disappears and Christ, whose pulpit this is, appears, that through Your words You would make Him plain to us, that You would minister to us by the Holy Spirit as Your Word is preached. We can’t do this; we’re helpless, and so we ask for You to do so. And we ask this all in Jesus’ name, amen.

Psalm 14. This is God’s holy, inspired, and therefore inerrant Word:

“TO THE CHOIRMASTER. OF DAVID.

 

The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

 

The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

 

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

 

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?

 

There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.

 

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.”

The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of our God shall stand forever and ever. Amen.

What do you do when it feels like society is falling apart? Maybe a better question would be, “How many times did you ask that question this week?” After watching the events unfold on the week where we celebrate our nation’s Independence day and everything that happened after that, what do you do when it feels like everything is falling apart? A few years ago, there was a movement called “The New Atheists” – Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens published all these books on why you don’t need to believe in God. And one of the things they honed in on was, “You don’t need a belief in God to be good. You don’t need God to tell you what is right and wrong. Think for yourself! Live for yourself!” Well, we’re not talking about the new atheists that much because like everyone who has come before them who has rejected God, they have become the old atheists, and that’s who David talks to us about here this morning in this psalm.

As he works through Psalm 14 here, this is a communal lament. It’s almost identical to Psalm 53. There’s an extra verse in Psalm 53, the name of God is different, but almost line for line the same psalm and the communal lament was God’s people getting together saying, “How long? Where are You, God? Why are things happening like this to us? Where are You when we need You? We need You to act right now; why aren’t You?” That’s what’s going on here in this psalm! But David’s going to go from there to showing us that God is there, He will act, we’re going to see He has acted, and therefore there’s hope at the end of this psalm, a lot of it, a lot of Gospel hope. I want to look at this psalm with you under three headings this morning. In verses 1 through 3, the folly of the fool. The folly of the fool. And then in verses 4 through 6, the plight, the plight of God’s people. And in verse 7, a prayer for salvation. So the folly of the fool, the plight of God’s people, and a prayer for salvation.

  1. The Folly of the Fool.

Look with me there again at verse 1 and 2. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.” At the outset, we’ve got to understand that David is not engaged in name-calling here. God is not calling unbelievers names like, “You idiot!” The “fool” is a technical term in the Scriptures and when you read about the fool in the Bible, the fool can be somebody who’s very smart, very likable, very urbane, very articulate, and that makes him all the more dangerous to himself and others. But fundamentally, the fool, especially in the Old Testament, is somebody who has rejected God and His ways at the core of their being. That’s why he talks about the heart here. For the Old Testament, for the Jewish mindset, the heart is everything you are – your mind, your will, your emotions. And at the deepest part of who you are, it’s very forceful in the original, that “there is” clause isn’t there. Literally, it reads, “The fool says in his heart, ‘No God.’” Forceful rejection of God and His ways.

And to be clear about this as we launch into this text, the Bible makes clear, because Paul uses these verses to prove that all of us are lost apart from Jesus, the Bible makes clear that you and I can find ourselves in these verses. These are about all of us apart from Jesus. And that stings when it comes home, but it’s the truth of what we are. Keep that in mind; we’ll return to it towards the end of our sermon here.

The Result of Folly

And David says something results; “They are corrupt. They do abominable deeds. There is none who does good.” Verse 3, “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” Notice that categorical language! He doesn’t say “some,” it only afflicts a few people. It afflicts everybody! And David’s point is very simple, sin is personal to all of us, all of us are sinners, and sin never stays compartmentalized. It never just stays with us! It spills out into the rest of society and sin affects everything. That’s why, in the Reformed tradition, by that, we mean the theology that follows from the Reformation, they use these terms to describe people. They said we were “totally depraved.” And that’s the “T” of the famous TULIP acronym to describe Calvinism. And the “T” means, for “totally depraved,” it doesn’t mean we’re as bad as we could be. It means that every part of us, from our emotions to our minds, to the institutions in which we inhabit this world, is affected by sin. And David says, “Here’s what to expect when people turn their backs on God and His ways.” And it reads like a contemporary newspaper, doesn’t it? “They are corrupt; they do abominable deeds. No one does good.” Social chaos! Moral catastrophe!

And what this does, when people turn their back on God and all of these things start happening, did you see what it said there in verse 2? “The Lord looks down from heaven.” That’s the same verb used in Genesis 6 when God looks down and He sees what’s going on, on this earth. He sees that every inclination of our heart is only evil continually. And God is, therefore, saying to us, “This will not go on forever. This will not go on forever. Judgment is coming.” We’ll come back to that in a second as well. But no one seeks for God naturally. That’s David’s point very simply. Because we’re so tainted by sin, we don’t want to see Him. We don’t like it when He interferes with our lives. We want to be left alone to do as we please. That’s our natural state.

There was a philosopher in the 19th century by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche. And Nietzsche wrote this book called, “The Gay Science.” And there’s this powerful literary portion of that work where he pictures a madman entering a crowded town square with a lantern saying, “Have you heard the sounds of the gravediggers? Even now the divine corpse is buried. God is dead and we have killed Him.” And Nietzsche well understood the implications of his philosophy expressed in that book. He said this, towards the end of his life, he said, “If there is no God, anything goes.” And David tells us not only does anything go, but things go from bad to worse. Apart from God’s restraining grace, everything that we read about here would be happening daily. And it’s only because of God’s common grace to all people that society doesn’t fall into the chaos David describes here.

Now again, Paul picks up on this. Romans 3. In that argument, Paul is going to tell us about the Gospel and before he tells us in Romans 3:21-26 about the amazing news of what God has done for us in Jesus before he gets there, he spends two chapters telling us what’s wrong. He says, “Here’s your plight, humanity! And I’m going to give you the solution, but you have to understand the problem.” And he spends two chapters, in Romans 2 and Romans 3, and when he gets to the section right before he talks about Jesus and what Jesus has done for us, he quotes these verses to prove that both Jew and Gentile, meaning all people at all times in all places, are fallen, are sinful. He quotes these verses! And therefore foolishness is not so much about what we don’t or do know. Foolishness is a moral problem. It has to do with our rejection of God in His ways, and it happens all over the place around us, and it’s our biggest problem too. It’s not just without us; it’s within us too.

  1. The Plight of God’s People

The second point, we see the plight of God’s people in verses 4 through 6. God then, begins to ask questions. The fool says, “No God” Verse 4, God says, “No knowledge.” “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.” You see, we have a studied amnesia of who God is. What do I mean by that? We try to forget Him! And God says that is foolishness for the fool. And He says if you want to see where this works itself out, where the wickedness of hatred towards God and a turning away from Him and His Law works itself out, He says, “Look at what happens to My people.” And as natural as it is for when you and I get hungry, you know we go get something to eat. God says that when people reject Him and turn their own way, it’s as natural for them to oppress His people as it is for us to eat bread. “They eat up my people like bread,” He says.

Believers Must Count the Cost of Following Jesus

How does that play itself out? We live, right now, probably in the worst time of persecution in the history of the Christian Church. If you’ve read Church history at all, you’ve read about the 1st century and the Christians huddled in the catacombs in Rome and being persecuted by the governing authorities in imperial Rome. We’re on a scale now that trumps that. In the Middle East, East Asia, North Africa, North Korea, where there’s massive, wholesale persecution of our brothers and sisters in Jesus simply for believing in Jesus. And God says that’s what happens when people turn their backs on Him. The first place it shows up is an unmitigated hatred of His people. And isn’t that what Jesus told us? Here’s what I love about following Jesus, of many things. He never sugarcoats anything, does He? He never comes to us and says, “You know, if you follow Me, it is going to be days of wine and roses. Life is going to be awesome! The sun will always shine. And it’s going to be a great life. Your best life now, as a matter of fact!” He never says that! He says things to us like, “If any man would come after Me, let him take up his cross.” If you took up your cross in the first century, guess where you weren’t coming – back! He says things like, “Count the cost of following Me. Nobody goes out and starts to build a house unless they have enough money. Same thing with Me. Count the cost of following Me.” And then He says, this is just so helpful for us thinking about this, “In this world, you’re going to have tribulation and difficulty. Be of good cheer. I’ve overcome this world.” No sugarcoating! “Life’s going to be hard. It’s going to be harder if you follow Me.” That’s what He tells us! That’s part of the good news is that Jesus says, “Life is going to be hard because we live in a fallen world but be of good cheer. I’ve overcome that world for you.”

That’s what David is saying too. It comes naturally for God’s people to be oppressed and the characteristic mark of those who turn their back on God, verse 4, they don’t call upon the Lord. Now it’s interesting if you go back to Genesis chapter 4 after we have the murder of Abel by Cain, and we read about Seth and the godly line that comes after that. Right in there in Genesis 4:26, the mark of the godly line that’s going to come, the seed of the woman from which eventually Jesus will come – so there’s Gospel right there in Genesis 4 – the mark is, “They called upon the name of the Lord.” That’s the mark of somebody who knows and trusts Jesus. It ought to start to come naturally to us where we run to Him, we call upon Him. He is our comfort, as we just confessed, in life and death. And if you’re comforted by something, you turn to it when life gets hard.

And David says the opposite is true for those who reject God. And that might be you this morning! You might have come here because, you know, I grew up in South Carolina like everybody goes to church, right? That’s what you do! It’s Sunday morning; you go to church. Maybe that’s why you’re here! That’s a good thing. Thank you for being here! Here’s the thing to think about if you’re here and you don’t know God and you’re hearing this sermon and you’re going, “Yeah, I don’t really pray that much because I don’t feel any desire to call upon God,” that’s what comes naturally. Let me say that calling upon God is the most unnatural thing in the world. Until God changes our hearts, we never want to do that. But if you don’t call upon Him, here’s the invitation this morning to come and know Him! That’s what David is doing. He’s saying, “If this is what marks out your life, there’s hope for you.” And we’ll get to that here in a second.

Terror Upon Those Who Do Evil

But notice verse 5 – “there they are.” Who’s the “they”? That’s the evildoers. That’s a notoriously difficult verse to translate, but God is saying, “There're the evildoers in great terror.” Why are they in terror? Because God is with the generation of the righteous and He’s going to punish those who reject Him. That is not a popular thing to say today. And kind of the argument that is going around today is, “Well that is the mean God of the Old Testament. He’s like all fire and judgment and commandments and Jesus is basically a glorified Liz Claiborne model who looks flowery and loves everybody and never says hard things to us!” That is not what the Scriptures teach us. Because when you get to Revelation 19, or Revelation 6 rather, and you read about the terror of God’s wrath falling on those who reject Him, what do the people who are running from that judgment say? “Save us from the wrath of the Lamb!” Who’s the Lamb? Jesus! So Jesus is saying to us here, “If you continue in a studied rejection of Me and My ways, of the salvation I offer you freely by grace, then judgment is coming.”

And that is good news for God’s people. Why? Because though the poor – and primarily what’s in view here is, yes, the material poor, but mostly in view here is those who are poor in spirit like Jesus talks about in the Sermon on the Mount, those who are afflicted, those who are following God and seeking to do His will and following hard after Him, yes with much failure and falling apart, but following after Him and wondering why is life so hard. Maybe that’s you! Maybe you look around like I did this week at the world around us and go, “What is going on? What’s happening here? It feels like the whole thing is falling down, the whole thing is going up in the fire.” And we want to say, “Where is God?” And right there, the Lord is his refuge.

Now I am one of four brothers and all my brothers that have kids have boys. The Lord saw fit to give me three little girls, so it’s been a new experience for me. I went from G.I. Joe to Barbies in our household so that’s how it works! And one of the things I’ve learned about little girls, my little girls when they’re scared, their first impulse is not to tough it out. I remember I never wanted to look weak in front of my brothers, right? When my girls get scared, what do they do? What’s their first impulse? They run and grab hold of Daddy because Daddy is a refuge for them when they are scared. And God is telling us if you’re a Christian, that’s what it’s like. He’s your Father! When you’re scared, He’s your refuge. When things look like they’re falling apart, He’s your refuge. Injustice, violence, evil, never has the last word – ever! It might for a little while, but there they are in great terror one day. And we don’t say that in any kind of glee like, “We win. You lose. Deal with it!” That’s not what we’re saying. What’s we’re saying is, “When it looks like things are falling apart, when you cry out for justice, when you wonder where it is, God says, ‘Just wait. And in the meantime, run to Daddy. I’m here. I’m your refuge.’”

And so when it comes to this, what do we do with all this? What are we thinking about when David is here in verse 6, saying, “The Lord is his refuge”? What he’s telling us is, “Don’t give up on God when everything seems to be falling apart. David says, “Don’t forget the great fact of God who’s there, who’s history, apart from whom nothing happens, who will bring to pass, as our Confession puts it, all His – here it is – “holy will.” Everything, under His control. “Don’t forget that,” David says. “Remember the great fact of God.” And this is so comforting to us when we feel like maybe outcasts, right? We look around us and we see people doing well and we feel like outcasts. And if you’re a Christian, you will eventually feel like that. If you believe what the Bible teaches about human sexuality, about how we’re supposed to live our lives before God, about how we’re supposed to live life in this world, if you believe what Christianity teaches on those things, you will eventually be a social outcast at some point. Jesus says that’s what’s going to happen. He also says He is our refuge. “Never will I leave you. Nor will I forsake you.” He will be there for us in the middle of it.

  1. Prayer for Salvation

Last point here; Verse 7, David pleads a prayer for salvation, “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.” You see, Zion was the place where God chose to put His presence. That’s where the temple was, the holy of holies, the place where only the high priest could go once a year. That’s where God’s presence was. But then John tells us something amazing in his gospel. John 1:14, “The Word became flesh,” and our English Bibles say, “and dwelt amongst us.” And that’s a great translation! But the Greek word literally is, “The Word became flesh and tabernacled amongst us.” What does that mean? What the temple represented about God’s presence was never meant to be limited to a little back room in the Middle East. It was a presence that was going to become so personal that God became one of us in His Son. “Oh, that You would send salvation out of Zion!” And notice how David says, “When,” not, “If.” “Maybe You’ll show up to help us, God? Maybe You’ll save us?” Not, “If You show up.” “When.” And not even David could have anticipated the fulfillment of when because when God showed up, His presence burst forth in the person of Jesus and walked among us and brought light and life and is still doing that today. His presence is with us by the Holy Spirit. He will never leave us nor forsake us because when Jesus came God got personal. The “when” is Christmas. The “when” is the incarnation. “When you send salvation.”

And notice how God did it. Here’s where it gets unexpected. You see, here’s the storyline up to the cross after the fall. Fall – Cross; storyline in between. This is us! That’s what’s described here in Psalm 14. This is us! Downward spiral. Left to ourselves, Genesis 6 – “Every inclination of their heart only evil, wickedly. No one does good. No one seeks after God.” And then cross! And what looked like an instrument of the worst injustice. And let’s be clear, the greatest injustice ever perpetrated on the face of this earth was the crucifixion of the sinless Son of God, Jesus. There has been no greater injustice committed. And out of that injustice, here’s where it starts to become unexpected. Out of that injustice, God meets His perfect justice in Jesus and lays on Him everything that is true of us from Psalm 14:1-3. That which looked like an instrument of death became the instrument of everlasting life. And you see, we could put it this way. David is saying, “Lord, reverse the fortunes of Your people. Send salvation.” And God answers and says, “I have reversed the fortunes of My Son so that your fortunes would be reversed.” The one who was holy, the one who was perfectly just, the one who had everything, left heaven to become one of us and took upon Himself everything that’s true of us. “He made him who knew no sin to be sin for us that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Because the Savior’s fortunes were reversed, ours have been reversed eternally. Not if, but when, and we live in light of the “when,” my friends. He sent salvation. It’s available today. If you’re not a Christian, He tells you to come. If you are a Christian, He says it is sweet to know He has come and acted.

We Must Have a Transcendent Reference Point When Making Moral Judgments

Let me say three things in closing by way of application. What this psalm teaches us, first of all, is that we have to have a transcendent reference point for judging good and evil, right and wrong. What do I mean by that? I mean a reference point that is outside of us. Because today, the majority report is, “There is no objective reference point. Do what feels right. Nobody knows for sure what is right or what is wrong.” And if that’s you, if that’s what you believe, here’s the deal. If you take that to its logical conclusion, here’s what you have to believe. Have to believe on pain of contradiction. If you believe that there is no ultimate standard of right and wrong, you can never get angry at Auschwitz again. You could never get angry at the Holocaust. You can’t get angry at racism. You should never go dig wells in Africa. Why? Because all of it’s meaningless if there’s no right or wrong. It’s just as equally good to oppress people as it is to set them free if you believe there’s no transcendent reference point in God to tell you what is right and what is wrong. Only Christianity gives you a transcendent reference point in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who speaks to you in His Word to tell you what is right and what is wrong.

And how does He do it? He comes to us in His Son to teach us. He comes to us with all the authority of heaven. And if it stopped there, we’d have every reason to be terrified. If all we had was authority, we live in a time where people are rightly suspicious of so many authorities but it never gives us the right to distrust the authority of God because He doesn’t just come with authority, He comes with authority expressed in grace and in love, in Jesus. Jesus says, “Follow Me and do what I command because I love you. Not to make Me love you, but because I already do.” Only transcendent reference point. That’s the only livable way to do right and wrong.

Live as Sons of God

Second thing. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine on my porch this week. And good things happen from porch conversations. I’m willing to bet a lot of us know that here. You sit on a porch; good things happen! And this dear friend of mine and I were talking about this psalm and he said to me something that struck me and stayed with me for the rest of the week. He said, “Isn’t it amazing that the Bible describes us as adopted sons and so often we live as fools?” And that’s my testimony! I look back at this past week and I know and I am secure that my Father loves me and has adopted me. I’ve lived most of my life outside of Jesus and He rescued me from the effects and consequences of my sin, and so often I live like I’m still in verses 1 through 3. I’m a fool, so often. And that’s the question for us this week. Are we going to listen to the voice that tells us, “You are My adopted child, bear the family resemblance”? That’s how God tells us what to do. “Come here, son. Come here, daughter. Live with Me. Bear the family resemblance.” Am I going to do that, or am I going to be the fool? “No thanks, God. I’ve got this.” And I’ve got to ask myself every time I do that, “How’s that working out for me?” Answer – not very well! And so God says to us, “Remember your sonship. Remember who you are in Him. Live as sons.”

Last thing, Christ, and this fallen world. What do we learn from this psalm? Well, as the past week showed us, we live in an evil world, a world that is full of evil, where a man can be pulled over and shot four times. That lands with me. I’m a concealed carry permit holder. One of the first things you learn, “Tell the cop you’re armed.” That was followed. And a man lost his life in front of a little girl. It’s evil when there are police protecting protestors, many of whom were there to protect their livelihood, and a well-trained coordinated effort rains down bullets on fathers and husbands and takes the lives of five officers in Dallas. And it’s evil closer to home here, isn’t it? We’re on North State Street. One of my favorite places to eat is right down in Fondren at Roosters. I went to Roosters for the first time about two days after I moved here and got introduced to Comeback sauce and I think I mount a pretty good argument that Roosters might have the best Comeback sauce. I don’t know! We can have that discussion. But when I’m sitting there at Roosters I look across the street and I see a pink building where babies are murdered. And that happens every day in our land.

And I want to be clear here too. If you’re here this morning and you’ve had an abortion and that’s something you live with and you wonder if there’s “any hope for me, if this Gospel applies to me,” and you feel the horror of that, yes, the Gospel does apply to you, yes, there is good news for you, yes, Jesus shed His blood even for that sin. But for all of us here, we have to recognize there’s institutional evil around us, but the Bible wants to focus on this. It wants to focus our attention on the personal evil too. It starts with us! The biggest problem I have in my life is me. The biggest problem in my marriage is never what Callie says or does, it’s not what my children do, it’s me. It’s my sinful reactions and my heart is revealed by the circumstances in which I face. I’m the biggest problem and Jesus is the greatest solution.

It reminds me of what the Bible tells us in Colossians 1. Paul says that one day He’s going to reconcile all things to Himself, all things. And until that time, when we enjoy the good things in this life, it’s tempting to just think that that’s all there is. We just kind of do all we can to keep the effects of the fallout of our lives. There’s a guy from about 1800 years ago who can identify with that but points us to a better way forward. It’s an early Church father by the name of Cyprian of Carthage in North Africa. He’s writing about A.D. 245, so about 200 or so years after Jesus was raised from the dead. And he’d become a Christian and he died in A.D. 258 under the persecution by an emperor by the name of Valerian. But before that, when he was in his mid-40s, he had a great porch. He was sitting in his garden. He loved to sit out in his garden and meditate on the Scripture and he wrote to a friend, Donatus, and we have a fragment of a letter. And here’s what he writes. He’s looking out on his garden, feeling the blessing of God, just enjoying that, “Ahhhh,” that you might get when you’re on vacation or in your happy place. Cyprian was in his happy place when he wrote this and he talks about what that forces him to do when he thinks about evil and how Christ is the solution to that. Listen to what he says. “Donatus, this is a cheerful world indeed as I see it from my fair garden under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain and look out over the wide lands, you know very well what I should see.” Now this sounds like a contemporary newspaper. “Brigons on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters men murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness, and cruelty and misery and despair under all roofs.” Corporate institutional sins he sees; personal sins. “But I have discovered, in the midst of this bad world, Donatus, this incredibly bad world, a company of quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found a joy which is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not.” Listen to this, “They are masters of their souls.” What would you pay to be a master of your soul? Then he finishes, “They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians, and I am one of them.”

And the news for us that we will look at, all the evil around us, all the injustice, all the hurt, and the good news is this – we are one of them. We have overcome the world in Jesus. We have moved from saying, “No God,” to knowing God in Christ. And therefore, when we see all of these things from our fairer garden, we can say, “I am one of them. I have overcome the world and I know who has the last word and it’s the word of restoration and grace.” Let’s pray together!

Father, thank You for Your Word. Help us to weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, to fight sin in our own hearts and wherever we find it outside of us. Lord, You have sent salvation. May all of us know it this morning. And we pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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