South Sydney Anglican Church

Seeking God’s Justice

24 January 2021

Topic: Strength

Bible Passage: Psalm 37 1 - 40

Sermon: Psalm 37: Seek God’s Justice by God’s Strength

A 2017 survey from the American Psychological Association (APA) found that news consumption created in more than half of all people feelings of anxiety, fatigue, stress – fear. I would hazard to say that 3 years later, that sentiment has not changed.

When we look at the world, so often it can seem meaningless and unfair. So often we seem to see evil prospering, flourishing – the wicked growing ever more wealthy, healthy, and powerful, without consequence. And we see the innocent suffer – suffer abuse, fear, violence, pain, uncertainty. We see the weak abused, the poor pilfered, those who least have a voice being most taken advantage of, being mistreated, murdered.

And we despair, and worry and fret because we see this, and we ask ourselves: “Where is the justice in this world? Where is God’s justice?”

That is the sentiment the psalmist seeks to answer in Psalm 37– “how should we as Christian’s respond to a seemingly unjust world?”

The solution in a Time magazine article written on the survey, suggested reducing our daily consumption of the news. Whilst a fine suggestion in itself, is it enough? That when confronted with injustice we are to bury our head in the sand, ignore it. When by God’s common grace we feel anger at unfairness we are to merely look the other way? When we are asked by children why bad things befall good people – that we must simply respond in muted apathy that: “the world is unfair.” What hope is there in such an answer?

Is that the solution that we as Christians should cling to? Is it the solution the psalmist gives? As Psalm 37 provides wisdom on God’s justice, I believe there are three things we as Christians can draw from it – God’s Justice for the wicked, God’s Justice for the righteous, and God’s ultimate justice upon the cross.

1.     Fret Not – Justice for the Wicked (v 1-2, 7-9)

Is there justice for the wicked?

Read Psalm 37:1-2, 7-9

Psalm 37 has been classified as a wisdom Psalm (akin to Psalm 1 or 49), one providing instruction and guidance in the fear of the Lord. It is a psalm that would not be amiss amongst the proverbs and is written as an acrostic poem. Each stanza in the psalm beginning with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet, however, unless I am really bad at my abc’s this didn’t translate over in English. I would however wager that the form was not simply a consequence of poetic license by David, but one of useful mnemonic, a helpful way for those who hear it to memorize, meditate on and mark it in their daily lives.

The first verse begins with an instruction: “do not fret…. or be envious”. Of what? Of those who do wicked, those who do evil. Again, in v 7 –

Be still before the Lord
and wait patiently for him;
do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
when they carry out their wicked schemes.

Do not fret, be still, do not be envious, wait patiently for the lord. Verse 8, “Do not fret [over the wicked] it leads only to evil”? Do nothing? This is the wisdom of the Psalmist?

This sermon series, as we have been going through the Psalms, has been titled Strong in the Lord. The defining image is that of a young boy with a cape.

Once a piece of fashion that kept you warm and dry, capes have now become a symbol of heroes. Superheroes have exploded into the mainstream in recent years, over half of the top grossing blockbuster films in the last 5 years were superhero or Star Wars movies – why? Because they tell simple stories people want to believe. The heroes fight for truth, justice, liberty, and the American way! And in the endgame, they always win. The good guys triumph and evil gets punched in the face. And in a world where darkness constantly seems to be winning, these tales are a comfort, aren’t they?

So often we wish these types of heroes would swoop down and save the day, fix the ills of the world, or better yet, we imagine ourselves as these heroes – if only we were stronger, smarter, had more money, were more powerful than a locomotive and could leap tall buildings in a single bound, then we would go out and fix the world. End famine, suffering and punish the evildoers. We get frustrated and envious of the people who are doing wrong and seem no worse off for it, in fact they seem to be doing so much better than everyone else. We get angry that the wicked plot the demise of the righteous, lie in wait to trip them up and slay them, injure, and take from you – consequence free. And we want justice, we demand vengeance, an eye for an eye! And we turn to God and say, “God, if I were God, I’d be doing this God business a whole lot better than you!”

But what does the Psalmist say, v1 “Do not fret because of those who are evil.”

In the original Hebrew, the phrase fret in this verse came from the verb charah meaning to burn in anger, to fume in indignation. Like a fire kindling, it can be stoked and grow into a blazing wildfire consuming everything in its path. Satan can so easily twist righteous indignation into anger and envy. We see evil committed but we fail to find human justice with human strength alone, so we begin to care more about the gains that evil brings than God’s justice, we have a wrong committed against us and we care more for vengeance than equity, we see the suffering of others and fall into anger at those who do nothing rather than give generously ourselves – and eventually we turn against God, we question him and his power and rail against him in anger. Look with me again in v 8:

8Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
do not fret—it leads only to evil.

So long as we chase human justice by human strength – we will fail. And we will grow bitter and envious and angry and eventually you begin to turn against God himself. Because you think you know better than Him. And in verse 9 the psalmist reminds us of the ultimate consequence of turning away: v9

9For those who are evil will be destroyed

But the Psalmist also reminds us, that our God is a just God. He does not ignore wickedness or turn a blind eye to evil and suffering:

for like the grass they will soon wither,
like green plants they will soon die away

10 A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

14 The wicked draw the sword
and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
and their bows will be broken.

20 But the wicked will perish:
Though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.

God’s justice and wrath will be turned on those who deserve it. In the end, those who have stored up in greed and evil, will have their possessions wither away and they shall stand before the creator of the universe facing judgement. As surely as the sun rises, God’s ultimate judgement and justice will come. Evil does not escape its consequences.

And so, the psalmist reminds us, we are not to be consumed by anxiousness or anger in the impossible and unending task of finding human justice through human strength.

Instead, we can walk and live in the assuredness, patience, and confidence that God’s justice will come by God’s strength, that in the end evil truly will get punched in the face. As we trust fully in God’s strength and justice our patience is never in vain and, we will never be let down.

2.     Trust in the Lord – Justice for the Righteous (v 3-4)

Now at this point some of you may be thinking to yourself, James, this is the least inspirational sermon in the world. Is the Christian response to evil in the world, really to just passive indifference – that we are to sit around in insipid apathy until Christ returns?

Thankfully, it seems the Psalmist has something else to say. We are not to simply ignore wickedness but turn from it wholly and pursue righteousness. Look with me at v 3-6

Trust in the Lord and do good;
dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.
Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn,
your vindication like the noonday sun.

The psalmist’s wisdom does not instruct us to sit idly, but instead to commit ourselves to righteousness wholeheartedly – knowing that our faith will be vindicated. In the here and now we are to, v 27-28:

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.

That is not something that’s easy to do, in fact living righteously is impossible by human strength alone. The world and Satan are trying to continuously convince you that faith is futile. Continuously try and sell you a lie.  In the words of Rick Moranis in the movie Spaceballs, “now you see that evil will always triumph, because good is dumb”.

But the psalmist reminds us of the truth – that just as God’s justice punishes the wicked, so too does God’s justice vindicate the righteous. And he shows us this in two ways – the first is that God rewards those who are faithful, the second is that God strengthens those who pursue righteousness.

God rewards those who commit their paths to him; v 16-19:

16 Better the little that the righteous have
than the wealth of many wicked;
17 for the power of the wicked will be broken,
but the Lord upholds the righteous.

18 The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
and their inheritance will endure forever.
19 In times of disaster they will not wither;
in days of famine they will enjoy plenty.

God does not abandon or forsake those who trust in him. He has stored up a reward in heaven and eternity far greater than any treasure on earth. Jesus himself reminds us from Matthew 16:26:

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” – Matthew 16:26

 And the psalmist would know, he is King David, with all Israel at his beck and call. He would have had a palace, and riches and power; and yet the one thing he wants above all else, what he would readily abandon all else for, is God’s promise to him, v 11:

11 But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy peace and prosperity.

Not just for 20 or 30 or 40 or 70 years, but forever. In the end God cares for those who commit their way to the lord and trust in him. But not just in the next life, but also in this one. King David has experienced firsthand both the difficulty but also the reward of following God’s way. Look at v 25-28

25 I was young and now I am old,
yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
their children will be a blessing.[b]

27 Turn from evil and do good;
then you will dwell in the land forever.
28 For the Lord loves the just
and will not forsake his faithful ones.

God does not abandon his people, he gives spiritual blessings and contentedness to those who rely on him – you may have little, but you will never want for anything.

As we pursue righteousness, we cannot and do not do so alone. Psalm 37 continuously reminds us that, v 23-24:

23 The Lord makes firm the steps
of the one who delights in him;
24 though he may stumble, he will not fall,
for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

Only by God’s strength can we walk in his ways, but we do so with confidence not just of reward but also the confidence that He walks beside us, lifting us up. And as we pursue God’s righteousness, he also changes our hearts through his grace and spirit.

As we delight in his ways, the more content, and joyful and less anxious you become.

As your certainty in God’s justice grows, so too does your willingness for love and self-sacrifice, your generosity for those in need abounds freely, your passion for the gospel message flourishes. And as you do these things God will make you a blessing to others and those around you – you become a conduit of God’s justice, not through human strength or for human satisfaction, but through God’s strength for his glory

Take delight in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.

As we continue to delight in the lord, he will continue to change the desires of our heart, that we will always be content and blessed in him.

3.     The Lord Delivers – Justice, Mercy & the Cross (v 39)

As we near the end of the sermon, I want to address one particularly important aspect of God’s justice that I have failed to address until now. When we plead with God for justice, we so often plead for human justice, justice for me, justice against those who wronged me, justice to make me feel good. By God’s common grace we have been granted a conscience, we know instinctively what is right and wrong – but when we decide to categorize ourselves by human standards, we are quick to categorize ourselves as the righteous and others as the wicked.

But God rightly and lovingly judges according to God’s perfect and righteous standards. And that is a standard we will always fail to meet. In the book of Romans we see:

“As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;”
– Romans 3:8

38 But all sinners will be destroyed;
there will be no future for the wicked.

We’ve all sinned; stolen, lied, thieved, hated, committed adultery, and placed our idols before god. We have hurt others. With both our minds and bodies, we have turned from God and scoffed at his inheritance. And we rightfully deserve god’s wrath – to face judgement and destruction.

And if it were left there, in verse 38, this would once more be the least inspirational thing you would hear all day. We’re all wicked and God’s deserved wrath is coming.

But Psalm 37 does not leave it there, God does not leave it there.

39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.

God sends his son, Jesus to take the wrath and penalty we deserve. Jesus is the only one who lived righteously, who fully trusted and committed his life in the lord, who walked blamelessly and whose words only uttered righteous truth. And what did he get? He was flogged, beaten, tortured, mocked, and crucified. He endured the suffering of God’s wrath. Jesus was the only one, the only one, who deserved inheritance and sanctuary written about in Psalm 37.

By human standards, there could be no greater injustice than the truly innocent suffering the punishment of the worst and most wicked of us. If ever there was a man who had the right to ask God, “where is your justice?” it would be Christ upon the cross.

And yet, Christ committed himself to the Lord, trusted fully in in him and he received his righteous reward shining like the dawn. For after three days, he conquered the grave and rose to sit at the right hand of God and become glorified above all others for all eternity.

For in his death, was the embodiment of God’s perfect love, mercy, and justice. For through grace the punishment we deserved as the wicked was atoned willingly by Jesus blood.

So now, when we seek the ways of the Lord, to walk the path of the righteous, we do not do so by human strength according to human standards. Instead, we have been made righteous through Christs’ blood. We do not need to fret or fear or be envious for we have undeservedly been granted the inheritance of the blameless. And as we commit our life to the lord, he becomes our stronghold, our salvation, and our deliverance.

So as each day you seek to commit yourself to the Lord and take refuge in him, in the matters of life both small and large you can be confident that when asked where God’s justice is, we can point confidently to the cross as the perfect embodiment of God’s justice, love and mercy, by God’s strength.

Knowing that Christ will come once more to judge the living and the dead, to deliver the innocent from the wicked and share the eternal inheritance with those who he has called to a life of righteousness. That like, Christ, we have not been promised a life without suffering, but instead that as we pursue God’s purpose, we will delight in him and his ways. That through the gospel message we assuage the suffering of others.

That unlike human justice which is fallible and whose hope is unclear and uncertain, if we seek God’s justice through God’s strength, God will never let us down.

Psalm guides those who commit themselves and find their strength in the Lord, to not fret about evil, to not let passion and anger consume them – but to trust in God’s strength and God’s justice. A justice that has been revealed in Christ, showing God’s justice is one of a loving and merciful God. That we can pursue righteousness freely, without fear that it is in vain, knowing that reward and vindication have already been given and promised tenfold in Jesus.

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