September 12, 2018

Pentecost 16 - Psalm 37:23-26

Lessons on Eternity – Delivered by God
1. An eternity of His faithfulness
2. An eternity of His promises fulfilled

Psalm 37:23-26 A man's steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way. 24 Though he falls, he will not be overwhelmed, because the LORD holds his hand. 25 I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous abandoned or his children begging for bread. 26 He is always generous, always lending, and his children are a blessing. 

“He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This saying if often attributed to Jim Elliot, a missionary who was martyred for his faith by the very people he was seeking to help. Here’s some background to his story:

On January 8, 1956, Elliot, and four other men, were speared to death on a sandbar in the deep jungle of Ecuador. They were trying to reach the Huaorani Indians for the first time in history with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Research into the circumstances surrounding the martyrdom of these five missionaries has revealed the hand of God in unexpected ways. In the September 1996 issue of Christianity Today, a son of one of the missionaries wrote an article about new discoveries about the events behind the slayings.

The story goes that the missionaries flew over the tribe and announced on the loud-speaker an invite to come to their camp. Upon landing three members of the tribe came. The first was a woman in her 30s who was interested in learning who the men were. The second was a younger woman who was a companion of the first. The third was a man named Nankiwi who was romantically interested in the younger woman. Really, only the first woman actually cared to see who the visitors were.

When the three Indians arrived the missionaries quickly displayed non-threatening acts of kindness. Nankiwi was interested in the men’s plane so one of them took him for a ride in it. At dusk, the older woman elected to stay at the camp and visit more with the men. The younger girl and Nankiwi returned to the village. When the rest of the tribe, including the younger girl’s older brother, saw that they were returning without his sister’s older chaperone, he became incensed with anger. Nankiwi, in an effort to deflect responsibility, lied and said that the missionaries had attacked them. The men of the village decided at that point to return the missionary camp the next morning and kill them. Even the later arrival of the older woman, who assured the tribe that the missionaries meant no harm, fell on deaf ears. The next day the lives of the five missionaries were taken.

The son who did this research penned an interesting observation, writing:

“As [the killers] described their recollections, it occurred to me how incredibly unlikely it was that the [Palm Beach] killing took place at all; it is an anomaly that I cannot explain outside of divine intervention.” What he observed is correct. When you think of all the factors at play in this situation, and the great impact that the death of these missionaries has had on the church at large, it cannot be seen as anything other than the hand of God at work. And Jim Elliot’s saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” became the theme and testament of these men’s lives – a rallying cry to the entire Christian church.

Of course, not everyone knows that this really wasn’t Elliot’s saying. He borrowed it from a 17th century pastor in England named Phillip Henry. No Christian from any time period has exclusive right to the divine handiwork of God – nor is it a gift reserved only for the most pious or the most faithful martyr. From young to old, from pastor to child, from significant to insignificant, we all can boast in Christ that we have received what cannot be lost. This saying is ultimately about eternity, not any single event or happening in life. It’s a reminder that what we have now is temporary – no matter who you are you will surely lose everything that you have in this world. The Bible has its own sayings to the same effect: Dust to dust, ashes to ashes. Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return. “For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out (1 Timothy 6:7).”

Part 1: An eternity of His faithfulness

This sad outcome is a well-known reality. Though we often try to avoid it, or we live like we’re trying to avoid it, no one can escape it. This is confusing for us. The bigger question is “why?” Why is life like this? Why does God allow this pain to exist – for the evils to happen? What was His purpose in allowing those five men to be killed, in allowing what seem to be much greater evils to occur? Psalm 37 is David’s song about this question. If you read it in its entirety you’ll notice that much of it has to do with that question of why?

I’ve singled out the verses of our text because they are David’s answer. They reveal his confidence by faith – despite the many lurking unknowns swirling about in his mind. And within this struggle of time and space here on earth, of being a finite creature with limitations trying to comprehend the divine, David points to eternity. An eternity of God’s faithfulness. An eternity of God’s promises fulfilled.

Perspective matters when it comes to appreciating faithfulness. David wrote earlier in the Psalm: Commit your way to the LORD, Trust also in Him, And He shall bring it to pass. 6 He shall bring forth your righteousness as the light, And your justice as the noonday. We’re conditioned by the world to see death as defeat. Where’s the justice and righteousness for the Christian who dies, especially for the Christians killed in the name of Christ? It feels like God is cheating us – when our perspective is earthly. God wants us to see eternally. In the context of eternity, death is liberating. Death ushers us to the gates of heaven. Death becomes a victory.

The eternal perspective gives this meaning because each of the things that now apply to us through death applied first to Jesus. His death liberated the world from the shackles of law’s curse. His death opened the gates of heaven. His death was the victory over hell and Satan. The death of a Christian is a mirror of Christ’s atonement on the cross, just as we were created in the beginning in God’s own likeness. Death is not something to run from or to cower from. Death has meaning for the Christian, an eternal meaning.

So David concludes in our text: 25 I have been young and now I am old, yet I have not seen the righteous abandoned or his children begging for bread. God is faithful and because of that we can find meaning in even the hardest of life’s situations.

Part 2: An eternity of His promises fulfilled

One of the reasons why it’s easy to lose sight of eternity is because God’s language of blessing is contained in human terms. For us to understand His divine truth, it must be brought to us – on our level. This does not mean that God’s blessings are common, ordinary, or earthly. They certainly have His divine signature. But, they are easy to misunderstand. Such an example is prominent in our text. One of the central themes of this psalm is inheritance of the earth. David writes,
v. 9: Those who wait on the LORD shall inherit the earth.
v.10: The meek shall inherit the earth.
v.22: Those blessed shall inherit the earth, but those cursed shall be cut off.
v.29: The righteous shall inherit the land and dwell in it forever.  
v.34: Wait on the LORD, and keep His way, and He shall exalt you to inherit the land.

As soon as we reach beyond this world to the heavenly and eternal blessings of Christ, we seem to be brought back down so quickly. Surely, we’re also reminded of one the Beatitudes that Christ taught – “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).” How can this thought be reconciled with an eternal perspective? What about when Christ also said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 "but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Mat 6:19 NKJ). What about Paul’s words, Colossians 3:1-2 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.  

If God promises to bless us with an inheritance of the earth, shouldn’t we hasten to receive it? How can this be done while keeping the eternal perspective? Verse 23 reveals the key: A man's steps are established by the LORD, and He takes pleasure in his way. Those who are the LORD’s are led by the LORD. This doesn’t just refer to where we walk, but also how we think and what we believe. God is not intent on blessing us with an earth that will be destroyed. God’s blessing is speaking of the renewed heavens and earth. Isaiah described this through prophecy, Isaiah 65:17 "For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; And the former shall not be remembered or come to mind.

God’s promise is about the earth as it was created in the beginning, as He intended it to be – righteous and without sin. Isaiah goes onto describe this gift: “Be glad and rejoice forever in what I create… The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her, Nor the voice of crying.” Heaven is God’s eternal gift, but it only comes to those who believe in Christ. Believers have the renewed mind of faith to discern the Lord’s promise and fulfillment – both in what it means and how it is received. They are blessed to be led by the Lord. 

There are many in the world who believe it’s a childish dream to trust in God. They believe it’s foolish to forego what you have now in order to gain something that is unknown at the time. Yet, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” This is the eternal perspective. No amount of money, goods, fame, pleasure, comfort, or security of this life can be taken with you at the end of your days. So, prioritize what is important today. Yet, in so doing, don’t just be willing to give something up. Receive what Christ freely offers! Gain eternity by faith. The blessing is yours for the receiving. Likewise, the answers to life’s most perplexing questions are found in God’s Word. And you do not need to fear losing these heavenly treasures because God is faithful. They are yours because He loves you. They cannot be taken away because He loves you. Your eternal hope and perspective in your heart and mind is solid through the merits of your Savior Christ.     

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