The Answer to Everyone's Question

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on Jul 24, 2016

Psalm 111 and 112

If you would turn in your Bibles to the book of Psalms, we’ll be in Psalm 111 and 112 this morning. It can be found on page 509 of your pew Bibles. We’ve been working through a different psalm each Sunday in the month of July. This Sunday we will go through two psalms, and each of these psalms stands on their own but what we see is, there’s a clear connection between these two psalms. And I want to make a couple of comments just to point those things out before we read them. The first thing is not going to be obvious to us as we read in English; it’s because these two psalms are acrostics. The psalms take the start of each line, the first word at the beginning of each line starts with a letter, a successive letter from the Hebrew alphabet. So it starts with aleph and ends with tau. There’s twenty-two lines, aside from the first line, in each of these psalms. So they’re equal length; they are acrostics. It’s sort of like when you were in school and you had an assignment where you wrote your name down a sheet of paper and you wrote a characteristic of yourself that starts with each letter of your name. That’s sort of what the psalmist is doing here in this passage. And so each word, each line, is carefully thought out in this passage in both of these psalms.

There’s actually another thing he’s trying to do; he’s trying to express a comprehensiveness about these psalms. Sort of like when you say that a textbook covers a topic “from A to Z.” From start to finish, top to bottom, this tells you all you need to know about a certain topic. Well, the psalmist is seeking to express a sort of comprehensiveness about his theme of wisdom in these two psalms. The other two features that are similar here is the first line. It’s, “Praise the LORD!” That’s the Hebrew word, “Hallelujah!” Both of these psalms start with the word, “Hallelujah!” But they also include the phrase, “the fear of the LORD.” Go ahead and look with me at Psalm 111 verse 10. Right at the end of the first psalm, it says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” And then when you go right down into Psalm 112 in verse 1, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD, who greatly delights in his commandments.” The fear of the Lord is right there. It’s sort of a hinge which connects Psalm 111 to 112. And you see Psalm 111 is showing us, it’s describing the power and the glory of God and giving us reasons to praise God, to fear Him. And then you move into Psalm 112 and it’s describing to us the blessings that come to those who fear God. And these two psalms together are really striking at the deepest needs that we have. It’s striking at the deepest desires of our heart. So with that in mind, let’s pray and then we’ll read these passages together.

Our Father, we do need Your help. We pray that Your Spirit would guide us through these psalms and that we would join the psalmist in praising You, we would join the psalmist in the fear of the Lord in wisdom, in blessing. We pray that You would do all of that for the sake of Your Son, Jesus, and it’s in His name that we pray. Amen.

Let’s read Psalm 111:

“Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation. Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them. Full of splendor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wondrous works to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and merciful. He provides food for those who fear him; he remembers his covenant forever. He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the inheritance of the nations. The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy; they are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness. He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name! The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!”

And then Psalm 112:

 

“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments! His offspring will be mighty in the land; the generation of the upright will be blessed. Wealth and riches are in his house, and his righteousness endures forever. Light dawns in the darkness for the upright; he is gracious, merciful, and righteous. It is well with the man who deals generously and lends; who conducts his affairs with justice. For the righteous will never be moved; he will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord. His heart is steady; he will not be afraid until he looks in triumph on his adversaries. He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor. The wicked man sees it and is angry; he gnashes his teeth and melts away; the desire of the wicked will perish!”

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

Let’s study these two psalms along two lines, and we’ll see first in Psalm 111, the beginning of wisdom, and then in Psalm 112, the blessings of wisdom.

  1. Wisdom Begins With Praise “Hallelujah”

First, the beginning of wisdom. It talks about the beginning of wisdom right there at the end – “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” Whenever the Bible talks about “the beginning of wisdom” it’s not just talking about the starting point of wisdom but it’s talking about the foundation of wisdom. It’s the controlling principle, the guiding principle of a well-lived life. And there are really three phrases that stick out in this first psalm that point us to the beginning or the basis of wisdom. And the first phrase that we see is right there at the very beginning, “Praise the LORD!” “Hallelujah!” Wisdom begins with hallelujah. Wisdom begins with praise to the Lord. You see, from the very beginning, the psalmist is placing us in a position, in a stance of worship, that we would bow before the infinite and the unchanging God. That we would come in praise and worship before the one, true, and living God.

And there are several times throughout this psalm that we read the word, “LORD,” the name of God which is written in all capital letters – “LORD.” This was the name of God that was given to Moses at the burning bush. It’s sometimes written as Jehovah. In fact, we’ll sing a hymn at the end of the service, “All Ye Who Fear Jehovah’s Name.” Well, that’s this word, “LORD,” in all caps. Sometimes it’s written as Yahweh. It means something like, “I AM WHAT I AM.” It’s what David referenced in the reading of Mark when Jesus says, “I AM.” That’s the name of God, of the LORD, as being referred to here in this passage. It’s God’s covenant name. It’s given in the context of a relationship with Him. There’s a nearness about His name that He gives to His people. And yet there’s also a sense in which it’s communicating His holiness. It communicates God’s majesty, His omnipotence, and His omniscience. He knows all things. He is worthy of praise.

And that’s what the psalmist does throughout Psalm 111 is, he lifts his voice in praise to God. “His righteousness endures forever. The LORD is gracious and merciful, holy and awesome is his name.” He says here in this first verse that his praise comes from his whole heart. He loves the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength and he’s ready to worship God wherever he goes – out in public, in the congregation, among God’s people. This is the central focus of a wise person’s life is praise to the Lord. And you see, when a person begins with hallelujah, then that person is ready to go out into the world and look at the day to day details of his life and to look at the big picture of what God is doing and is ready to see reasons to worship God everywhere. That person is ready to marvel at the works of God. Hallelujah. It’s a beautiful word. Maybe we don’t always appreciate its meaning, even as we sang it earlier in the service, but it’s a song, it’s a word that we’ll be singing forever. In fact, John tells us in the book of Revelation when he sees a vision of heaven, he hears the sounds of heaven, Revelation 19:1 he says, he records for us, “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God!”

I’ve had the privilege in recent years to worship in congregations from different backgrounds. I worshiped in a Hispanic congregation where the service was conducted in Spanish. I didn’t understand much, but I could understand the word, “Hallelujah” as it came from their lips. I’ve worshiped with a Sudanese congregation where the entire service was conducted in Arabic. I didn’t understand anything in that service except for this one word, “Hallelujah,” as it came from their lips. I’ve heard a Japanese choir singing American Gospel music. They didn’t speak much English but they could speak and sing, “Hallelujah.” That’s a beautiful word. It’s a word we’ll be singing together forever in heaven. And the psalmist is saying here right at the very beginning that wisdom, the foundation and the blessings of wisdom start with praise to the Lord. It starts with hallelujah.

Why We Ought to Praise God

And he moves on from that first word, that first phrase, “Hallelujah,” he moves on to break out in reasons why we are to praise God and that’s the second phrase that we see in this passage. It comes in verse 2, “Great are the works of the LORD.” Over and over throughout this passage, the psalmist is marveling at the works of God. It says it here in verse 2, down in verse 3, “full of splendor and majesty is his works.” Verse 4 he talks about his “wondrous works.” Verse 6, “the power of his works.” Verse 7, “the works of his hands.” And the psalmist is actually using different words but they’re all translated as “works” here in our passage. He’s showing to us that there is a variety and a diversity to the ways in which God demonstrates His power and His greatness. There’s something about the way that the psalmist refuses to categorize or to give distinct categories for the works of God in this psalm. Instead, his thoughts are moving back and forth from what God has made to what God has done for His people in salvation. You see, the psalmist is not coming to us as a systematic theologian, but he’s coming to us as a member of the choir and he’s giving us reason after reason after reason to look at God’s works and to bring praise to Him. You see that in verse 5. It says, “He provides food for those who fear him. He remembers his covenant forever.” You see what he’s doing there? He’s giving gratitude to God for simple, daily provision, for daily bread, and in the very next line, he’s thanking God for unending salvation blessings. And all of these things are working together to form this beautiful hymn of praise and worship to God.

But think about it! Think about what he is considering even as he thinks about God’s creation and God’s salvation. As he thinks about creation, even his understanding of creation couldn’t compare to what we know about the things that God has made. You see, the psalmist has never looked through a microscope. He’s never seen that image of the earth that’s called The Blue Marble. You know what I’m talking about? It’s taken from space of the entire globe. He has no idea of those sorts of realities. His travel in his lifetime would likely have been confined within the borders of Israel, maybe to the surrounding areas. And so he doesn’t have any category in his mind for the heights of Mount Everest. He can’t think about the lush vegetation of a tropical rain forest or the crystal clear waters of the Caribbean Sea. Instead, what he’s doing is he’s looking out into his backyard you could say and he sees the vibrant colors of the sunset, he sees the bright lights of the stars and the moon in the night sky. He sees the birds and the flowers and the changing of the seasons and he’s filled with wonder at God’s creativity and His sustaining power.

God’s Work of Redemption

And as he considers God’s work of redemption, where does his mind focus? It focuses back to when God delivered His people out of Israel – or delivered Israel out of Egypt. He brought them out with great power. He confirmed His covenant to them at Mount Sinai by giving them His Law and He settled and established them in a land, rich with blessing, the Promised Land. He talks about those things in verse 6. “His people” he gave “the inheritance of the nations.” Verse 7 talks about God’s precepts. Verse 9, “He sent redemption to his people.” This is the great act, the great event of salvation and grace in the Old Testament and it’s an overwhelming reason to give God praise. And yet, that grace in the Old Testament is always pointing forward. It’s always pointing forward to an even great deliverance. It’s pointing forward to Christ who would come and ultimately, finally, completely break the bonds of sin and death, who would secure for Himself, not just a people from Israel but from every tribe and nation and tongue and language. And He would settle them not just in Canaan, but He would give them rest and blessing in the kingdom of heaven.

So how much more reason do we have to say, “Great are the works of the Lord?” You see, the psalmist only saw shadows of Christ and yet we have a fuller picture of the splendor of God’s creation. We have a fuller picture of God’s grace and love in Christ Jesus. And really, already in the few hours of our day, we’ve been presented with unmistakable displays of God’s wondrous works. We’ve awakened to a new day to experience new mercies. We’ve had food on our plates; we’ve looked outside and seen the beauty of God’s creation. Have you ever stopped to think about that? If you’ve never seen a flower or you’ve never seen a colorful bird, that the environment around us, just the natural setting that we live in is full of green – vibrant, rich green. Or if we look up, we see the bright blue skies. This is the canvas on which God paints His masterpiece of creation – rich greens and bright blues. It is enough to make us praise God’s work of creation. We’ve gathered together this morning as brothers and sisters in Christ, we’ve worshiped together, we’ve sung God’s praises, we’ve heard God’s Word, we’ve read about Jesus and about His authority, about who He is as God and Man and the peace that He gives to those who trust in Him. In just these few hours of the day, we have been filled with reasons to praise God and to marvel at the great things that He has done.

The Fear of the Lord

It should fill us with awe and adoration for God and that’s exactly what the psalmist is doing. That’s exactly where he’s leading us in this psalm because he’s taking us here into verse 10, “the fear of the LORD.” That’s the third phrase from this passage, “the fear of the LORD.” Everything he’s been telling us is leading us to show us that this is to produce an attitude and a life of fear of the Lord. And make no mistake about it, about what that means. “The fear of the LORD” is the only right response to the glory of God. You see, this is not some sort of a cowering fear. It’s not a fear like a dog would have that’s been rescued out of an abusive situation that can never quite give affection to its new owners. This is not a debilitating dread of judgment, even though God’s holy and just wrath is a component or an element of the fear of the Lord. But this, this fear of the Lord is personal. It’s an intimate knowledge of God, of this one who is all powerful and set apart in holiness and who cannot countenance sin and yet He extends Himself in mercy and grace to give life and blessing to rebellious and undeserving sinners.

The best way for us to grasp what the psalmist is talking about with the “fear of the Lord” is to look to the cross. Where do we see the demand of God’s holiness in a clearer picture than at the cross? What does God’s holiness and righteousness require? It requires the death of His only Son, Jesus Christ. How much does God love sinners? How much does God love you? He sent His own Son to die and to sacrifice Himself in our place so that we may have a relationship with God. That is the holiness of God and the love of God and those things together create the fear of the Lord. It’s to know this God and to know His love for you; it’s to be moved in awe and wonder and adoration and fear.

This may sound like a harsh question, but have you ever been amazed that anyone would love you at all? You know we’re filled with our quirks, our faults; we have a propensity to offend one another and we don’t know the worst about one another. We come in here, we look nice, we seem fairly easy to get along with at least once we get out of our cars, and yet we can be difficult to love. We find it hard to express love to other people. And yet look at the picture of the cross – the love of God for sinners; that He would love us this much to send His only Son to die in our place, to receive us as His children, and to give us eternal life. That’s how much God loves you and that should move you to awe and adoration for Him. That should move us to the fear of the Lord. The person who fears the Lord makes God his chief delights makes God the sole object of his worship. And this is not just a mindset or an attitude, but it’s a way of life. It infiltrates everything in a person’s life. That’s what we see in verse 10. It says “all those who practice it,” who practice the fear of the Lord, have a good understanding. It’s that practice of the fear of the Lord that is wisdom and the wise person is now ready to wait and to receive the blessings of God.

  1. The Blessings of Wisdom

And that’s the key focus of Psalm 112 are the blessings of wisdom. As we look to that passage, the psalmist picks right up where he left off in verse 10 of 111. In verse 1 here of Psalm 112, it says, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD.” Psalm 112 is praising God for a wise life, while at the same time it’s commending this life of wisdom to us, the reader. It is painting this picture of an overwhelmingly positive life. The life of wisdom is a good life; it’s a life of blessing. And yet right here, what’s the first verse that we see in Psalm 112? What’s he doing? He’s confessing that God deserves all the praise for a wise life. He says, “Yes, it’s right to remember the wise person, it’s right to honor that person, and yet God receives all of the praise.” That’s because wisdom is not the result of good genes or a natural intelligence or the right training and schooling. No, wisdom is a blessing from God.

And so the first word that we read in Psalm 112 is “Hallelujah.” And then right after that, he says, “Blessed is the man who fears the LORD.” That word, “blessed,” is the same word, we would translate it as “happy.” “Happy is the man who fears the LORD.” I don’t think I need to convince anyone about the universal desire for happiness. You can notice it just if you look on the bookshelves at the bookstore. I looked the other day and saw books like The Happiness Equation, The How of Happiness, The Art of Happiness. It’s desired by everyone and yet it’s enjoyed by few. It’s elusive to many people. But what the psalmist is saying to us is that true happiness, blessing, comes from God alone. God is the giver of good gifts and you’ve been reminded several times in the past that God is more ready to give good gifts than we are ready to receive them.

The Fruitful Life of Those Who Fear God

And as this psalm reflects on what it means to receive those good gifts and to enjoy God’s blessing as we fear Him, it really points out two different characteristics that marks this person’s life. It’s fruitfulness and stewardship. These are the tracks of a wise life – fruitfulness and stewardship. We see fruitfulness in several places. It’s a fruitfulness at home and in his heart. It says, “His offspring will be mighty.” Verse 2, “Wealth and riches are in his house.” He has been so provided for that he is able to give generously to those around him. And it tells us that this man’s character is upright. Verse 4, “He is gracious and merciful and righteous.” Here is a picture of someone who is blessed by God on the inside and on the out.

And what’s most remarkable about this description of the wise man is the way that the words which describe the man of wisdom actually are the same words that describe God in Psalm 111. Just look back with me quickly at verse 3 of Psalm 111. It says, “His righteousness endures forever.” And then in verse 4, “The LORD is gracious and merciful.” And you see what the psalmist is doing in Psalm 112 is, he’s applying those same words that describe God to describe the man of wisdom. The man of wisdom lives a godly life; he has a godly character, and he enjoys a general level of wellbeing. So it’s fruitfulness.

Fruitfulness on one hand; stewardship on the other. This man’s wellbeing is not self-serving. Instead, his chief aim, his chief desire, is to honor God, and at the same time to bless and to benefit those around him. His fruitfulness does not come in a way that dishonors God. His fruitfulness does not come at the expense of those around him. And several times the psalmist is showing us how this man submits to the will of God. He fears the Lord, he delights in His commandments, and he exhibits a patience and a contentment in times of trial. Verse 7, “He is not afraid of bad news.” He trusts in the Lord. Verse 8, he is not afraid of his adversaries. You see, right here there is an indication, a clear acknowledgment that things do not always go well for the wise person, but even in times of adversity, he recognizes that his days and his times are ordered by God and so he can face them with a steady heart.

The Stewardship of the Wise Man

And not only are his days ordered by God but so are his resources. “He deals generously and lends. He conducts his affairs with justice.” Verse 9, “He distributes freely and gives to the poor.” Here is a man who is not structuring his life with a focus on “my time” and “my money” and “my goals” and “my schedule.” No, he asks the question, “How can I be a steward of the resources that God has given me in order to further His glory and be a blessing to those around me?” And there is a tremendous freedom in this life of wisdom. There’s a freedom to work hard while doing things God’s way. And a freedom to wait for God’s blessing and not feel constrained to manufacture those blessings on your own. That’s what’s commended in this psalm. It’s hard work. The psalm is commending to us the diligent use of the talents and skills and the resources that God has given to you. You see, the person who fears the Lord, the wise person, seeks to be fruitful in everything that he does, in everything that God has equipped Him to do. Whether it’s in construction or producing a great work of art, in teaching or in learning, in caring for the sick or upholding justice, in raising children or serving in the church, there is a blessing in hard work and that applies to every age, too young and old alike.

There’s a story in Ian Murray’s new biography of J.C. Ryle that says that J.C. Ryle was always alert to the dangers of doing nothing. And he would see children on the street corners, loitering around and just not doing anything at all. And he was heard to say to them, “Don’t stand there idle. It would be better if you went and got into mischief.” It was a tongue in cheek, but he understands what this psalmist is saying to us. Don’t stand there being idle; be fruitful. But it’s also celebrating a fruitfulness doing things God’s way. There’s a call here for us to be fruitful within the boundaries of God’s design. That our work, our hard work is structured by rest, that we keep the Sabbath and take the Lord’s Day seriously. That our gain is matched by generosity. That the more we make, the more we give. There is an acknowledgment that relationships are structured according to God’s Word, that the blessings of marriage are enjoyed within marriage – not before marriage or outside of marriage. There is a commendation of honesty in speech and in integrity at home and at work. That’s the life of wisdom – hard work done God’s way.

I think as we, in our own situation, our on congregation, we don’t have a problem very much with the hard work part of that, but how much of a challenge is it sometimes to want to do things our way and to miss the blessing that God has in store for us? What the psalmist is calling for us to do is to work hard and to do it God’s way and to do that because first and foremost the wise person focuses his life on the fear of the Lord. That’s probably the most important point to notice out of these entire two psalms, is that the wise person is not focusing on the blessing, not looking to the gift, but looking to the Giver. The wise person’s focus is on God the entire time. Because you see, to seek the benefit is to make that thing an idol and to fall into its destructive trap. But the psalmist is calling for us to turn to God alone, to seek Him alone, and there we find true blessing. And that fear of God that he’s talking about is only found as we turn in trust and faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot know God, we cannot fear God, our lives will never be controlled by an awe and a love for God unless we first trust and rest in Christ for our salvation.

The Priority of the Fear of the Lord

The gospel of Mark shows us this priority of fear of the Lord and the blessing that comes from that in chapter 10 where Jesus’ disciples have left everything to follow Him and Jesus says to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands for my sake and for the Gospel who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecution, and in the age to come eternal life.” That’s the fear of the Lord. Leaving all for Christ, looking to Him and not to the blessing, but in turn receiving God’s blessing a hundredfold and even more in the life to come. Doesn’t that give us confidence to be worshipers of Christ above everything else that we do? To fear the Lord and to trust in His goodness? It gives us confidence to do hard things, to do things that we may not want to do. It gives us confidence to stand firm in the midst of a culture which celebrates everything against God’s will because we know and we trust in the goodness of God to His people. Doesn’t that give us confidence to persevere through trials because we know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed to us? Doesn’t that give us confidence at the time of death that we can face it with peace and gratitude? What makes for a good funeral? A good funeral is when we celebrate a life that was lived in the fear of the Lord and you can look back and count the many ways in which God has blessed that person.

It’s illustrated in the lives of two men in the 18th century. One was David Hume. He was a brilliant philosopher but he was a skeptic and unbeliever. And at the end of his life, he made this remark. He said, “When I look abroad, I foresee on every side dispute, contradiction, anger, and detraction. When I turn my eye inward, I find nothing but doubt and ignorance.” George Whitefield, on the other hand, at the end of his life, the very last day of his life, says, “I go to my everlasting rest. My sun of life has risen and shown and it is setting. No, it is about to rise to shine forever. I have not lived in vain, and though I could live to preach Christ a thousand years, I die to be with Him which is far better.”

Those are two different ways. Those are the only two ways. That’s what the psalm holds out for us at the very end. It says that “the desires of the wicked will perish.” Two ways – the wise and the fool. Those who fear God and those who go their own way. There’s the righteous and the wicked. “The desire of the wicked will perish, but the righteous endure forever.” And together these two psalms are presenting to us the answer to the central questions of life, answers of meaning and purpose and happiness. Those things which are captured in the Westminster Shorter Catechism first question; we know it well. “What is man’s chief end?” What is the purpose of life? It’s “To glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” That’s right here in these two psalms – to glorify God, fear the Lord, enjoy Him forever, enjoy the blessings of wisdom. There is no other way to do that than to trust and rest in Christ alone for salvation. And we give God thanks that He has revealed His Son and the way of salvation to us in His Word. Let’s give Him thanks in prayer.

Father, we do give You thanks for Your Word, for showing us the way of wisdom, the way of grace, for showing us Yourself. We pray, Father, that You would by Your Spirit help us to come to You in fear and awe and reverence and that would infiltrate every aspect of our lives, that we would seek to glorify You above all else and that we would rest in Your blessing. And we pray all of these things in Jesus’ name, amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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