STAYING ON THE GLORIOUS PATH
Good evening brothers and sisters.
Tonight we’ll be taking a look at Psalm 50. Please turn with me to Psalm 50 and read along.
In this psalm we’re going to see that the Bible shows us four things:
It shows us the POWER of GOD (vs. 1-6)
It shows us the PROBLEM of RITUALISM (vs. 7-15)
It shows us the PROBLEM of HYPOCRISY (vs. 16-21)
It shows us the PROMISES of GOD (vs. 22-23)
We’re going to see that God is glorious, and getting closer and closer to Him, and more and more like Him, is our glorious goal, and the path to that goal is also glorious – it’s beautiful and full of life!
But staying on that path is sometimes difficult, and easy to wander away from. We can sometimes wander off the path into ritualism, sometimes we can wander off the path into hypocrisy. But God calls us always to return (repent), and get back on the glorious path and heading towards Him.
So let’s read the first six verses.
1The mighty God, the LORD, has spoken; he has summoned all humanity from east to west! 2From Mount Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines in glorious radiance. 3Our God approaches with the noise of thunder. Fire devours everything in his way, and a great storm rages around him. 4Heaven and earth will be his witnesses as he judges his people: 5‘Bring my faithful people to me – those who made a covenant with me by giving sacrifices.’ 6Then let the heavens proclaim his justice, for God himself will be the judge. Interlude.
Let’s stop there for a bit while we talk about the POWER of God.
What we have in the first 6 verses is the opening of a court scene. Here’s this court room and these verses speak about the entrance of the Judge – the Judge being God, God Almighty, the LORD, the One True God.
And look at how he comes in. In a court the bailiff tells everyone to stand because the important one is about to enter the court. Well here comes the important one. But instead of robes, God wears glorious radiance. Instead of the announcement of His arrival from a bailiff, He is announced by thunder. He doesn’t carry the authority given to Him by the constitution – He is full and all authority. Fire devours everything in His way, and a great storm rages around him.
Can you picture this incredible scene in your mind? Just barely.
I want you to see the POWER and GLORY of God.
These verses remind us of a time in history when God visited the earth in this way – when He was about to give the Ten Commandments to His people. Israel was camped at the foot of Mount Sinai and spent three days preparing themselves for this event. And then it happened. [Exodus 19:16-19]
“On the morning of the third day, there was a powerful thunder and lightning storm, and a dense cloud came down upon the mountain. There was a long, loud blast from a ram’s horn, and all the people trembled…All Mount Sinai was covered with smoke because the LORD had descended on it in the form of fire. The smoke billowed into the sky like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain shook with a violent earthquake. As the horn blast grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God thundered his reply for all to hear.”
Can you see it yet? Can you imagine who our God is and what He can do? We need to see it because it serves as a foundation for the way we relate to Him.
Look at how David describes God’s appearance in Psalm 18:
“Then the earth quaked and trembled; the foundations of the mountains shook; they quaked because of his anger. Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him. He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath his feet. Mounted on a mighty angel, he flew, soaring on the wings of the wind. He shrouded himself in darkness, veiling his approach with dense rain clouds. The brilliance of his presence broke through the clouds, raining down hail and burning coals. The LORD thundered from heaven; the Most High gave a mighty shout. He shot his arrows and scattered his enemies; his lightning flashed, and they were greatly confused. Then at your command, O LORD, at the blast of your breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare.”
This is Almighty God – the LORD!
[Romans 11:33-36] “Oh, what a wonderful God we have! How great are his riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who can know what the Lord is thinking? Who knows enough to be his counsellor? And who could ever give him so much that he would have to pay it back? For everything comes from him; everything exists by his power and is intended for his glory. To him be glory evermore. Amen.”
In the rest of this passage we’re going to see what happens when we forget who God is – when we forget his POWER, when we become used to His Majesty, when we choose to turn our eyes from His glory. When we become lazy with pursuing this God, we become overly-familiar with Him and we become bored with God. So we start to wander off the glorious path.
This can happen slowly – sometimes over weeks or months. So you don’t suddenly find yourself in trouble. But the trouble is that when you’re on this slide and you don’t fight against it, then two things happen: First, we begin to try to trick God by living Christian lives with unchristian hearts – we call this RITUALISM. And second, we try to trick everyone else – and that we call HYPOCRISY.
So God Almighty enters his courtroom. And He enters His courtroom and He calls those who will need to defend themselves. Does He call pagans? Does He call the devil? No – He calls His own people to account. He calls you and I to account.
Let’s see what the charges are as we consider the first problem: the PROBLEM of RITUALISM
7‘O my people, listen as I speak. Here are my charges against you, O Israel: I am God, your God! 8I have no complaint about your sacrifices or the burnt offerings you constantly bring to my altar. 9But I want no more bulls from your barns; I want no more goats from your pens. 10For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. 11Every bird of the mountains and all the animals of the field belong to me. 12If I were hungry I would not mention it to you, for all the world is mine and everything in it. 13I don’t need the bulls you sacrifice; I don’t need the blood of goats. 14What I want instead is your true thanks to God; I want you to fulfil your vows to the Most High. 15Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.’
The first CHARGE against God’s people is that they have stopped seeking Almighty God for who He is, as the One that is described in the first 6 verses. Look at what they’re doing. They’re doing all the spiritual activities. Their sacrifices are excellent. Their temple attendance is superb. They’re meeting the requirements of the law. Surely everything is good! They’re on the path. God ought to be grateful; right??
But they’ve forgotten who God is; they’ve forgotten that God doesn’t need any of that. Notice in these verses the SELF-SUFFICIENCY of God: He has all He needs. He sustains Himself. He doesn’t need their bulls or their goats.
We know that God commanded the Israelites to sacrifice a bull, and in their foolishness the Israelites thought God needed a bull. But God didn’t need the bull. No. Israel needed to give the bull. It wasn’t about God’s needs, it was about Israel’s needs.
Look at God’s self-sufficiency. I love this verse: “For all the animals of the forest are mine, and I own the cattle on a thousand hills. Every bird of the mountains and all the animals of the field belong to me.”
My mentor, Charl van Wyk used to go around and had a saying: Whenever he’d enter a cool looking place he’d say, “My Father owns this place.” Walk into a fancy Church: “My Father owns this place.” Walk into a fancy hotel: “My Father owns this place.” Walk into a bank: “My Father owns this place.”
It might seem silly, but it’s a good reminder that God owns everything, and God doesn’t need me and my stuff.
I love God’s words in Isaiah 66:1-2 “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. Could you build me a temple as good as that? Could you build me such a resting place? My hands have made both heaven and earth; they and everything in them are mine. I, the Lord, have spoken!”
Why did the Israelites think that God would be needing anything from them? Did they think God was sitting in heaven, at His great dinner table, waiting for their sacrifices? Did they think that His stomach was rumbling – “God’s getting hungry – better toss Him a steak”? Was God relieved when a bull was sacrificed; ‘Phew…I was getting really hungry there…thought I might die’?
So they kept ‘feeding God’ thinking that their performance earned God’s favour: If we feed God, then He will be obligated to return the favour. They forgot that God doesn’t need them or their sacrifices. GOD WASN’T AFTER THEIR STUFF, GOD WAS AFTER THEIR HEARTS.
When we give God our stuff but not our hearts, that’s RITUALISM. When we come to Church week after week after week, thinking that now God owes me health and wealth – that’s RITUALISM. When we pay our tithes at month’s end, thinking that now God ought to be happy with me – that’s RITUALISM. When we read our chapter of Bible in the morning and then think that God is now delighted in me because I read His book – that’s RITUALISM. When we sing the songs at Church and aren’t MOVED CLOSER TO GOD – that’s RITUALISM.
Do you think that God needs your TIME? He created TIME – ALL TIME IS HIS. Do you think God needs your money? What money is there that wasn’t made from what God made? ALL MONEY IS HIS. Do you think God needs your VOICE?
GOD NEEDS NOTHING FROM US.
He INVITES you to attend Church. He INVITES you to tithe. He INVITES you to sing praises. He INVITES you to prayer. Because God needs it? NO! Because YOU need it. Because I need it.
Look at this: ‘13I don’t need the bulls you sacrifice; I don’t need the blood of goats. 14What I WANT instead is your true thanks to God; I WANT you to fulfil your vows to the Most High.’
My friends, look at your life. Examine your hearts. Are you doing Christian activities and finding that you don’t draw close to God in them? Are you maintaining RITUALS and not RELATIONSHIP? You might be off the path.
Maybe you’re involved in Sunday School here at the Church, maybe you’re reading your Bible every day, maybe you’re in the band, maybe you’re faithful at the prayer meetings – if you’re active in Christian service and you’re finding that it’s become a DRAIN to you – it’s sucking the life from you – check your motives. You might be maintaining dead, empty rituals. You might be off the path.
‘15Trust me in your times of trouble, and I will rescue you, and you will give me glory.’
God describes here what He wants more than rituals of sacrifice. He wants a thankful heart, a life of obedience, and a living trust in Him.
The problem with RITUALISM is that it leads to the PROBLEM of HYPOCRISY.
Let’s see what the charges are as we consider the second problem: the PROBLEM of HYPOCRISY.
16But God says to the wicked: ‘Recite my laws no longer, and don’t pretend that you obey me. 17For you refuse my discipline and treat my laws like trash. 18When you see a thief, you help him, and you spend your time with adulterers. 19Your mouths are filled with wickedness, and your tongues are full of lies. 20You sit around and slander a brother – your own mother’s son. 21While you did all this, I remained silent, and you thought I didn’t care. But now I will rebuke you, listing all my charges against you.
Here are God’s people: They know His laws – they can even recite them; but they’re just pretending to obey God. Hypocrisy is pretending to do what’s right but behind the scenes you’re doing evil.
How does ritualism lead to hypocrisy?
In ritualism you’re pretending to meet with God when actually you’re not. You are even pretending to yourself. You’re coming to Church week after week, singing the songs, reading the Bible, praying…but it’s all a sham – it’s all a show. You’re not actually encountering the power of God. So you’re not being challenged by God, because you’re not meeting God.
So then you go about your life; and instead of living well, you’re faking it. But your heart has become so deaf to the voice of God – you know God’s heart so little – that you’re not even aware that what you’re doing is violating God’s commandments. You’re off the glorious path.
What is God’s response to this? God says, JUST STOP IT! Stop pretending to obey Me. Either obey me altogether, or don’t obey me at all – but stop pretending! Don’t stay off the path and pretend you’re on the path.
I know there are people here who walk into Church on a Sunday, appearing to have it all together. Maybe you’re dressed well, smiling, carrying your Bible, but you can’t wait for the service to end so you can get home to get on with your life. Maybe you sing loudest in the worship time but by Monday morning you treat your staff as beneath you.
Now I’m not saying that you must never sin. We all mess up, and there’s grace for that both from God and from God’s people.
But there are people who have a lifestyle of occasional Christian service and regular wicked living. In fact, I’ve served with people in ministry whose lives inside the Church told one story but outside the Church pushed people away from Jesus because of their living.
Again, I’m not talking about a single sinful action, or even a rough patch, but a life that shows no evidence of a relationship with Jesus.
What does your life say about your relationship with Jesus?
You know how you can know if you’re just pretending? Ask God to show you. Ask Him to open your eyes to areas that need to change. And ask it with an open heart. And keep asking it.
And here come the promises. This Psalm ends with some pretty strong PROMISES of GOD.
Firstly,22Repent, all of you who ignore me, or I will tear you apart, and no one will help you.
Firstly, what do we do if we see by our lives that we’re off the path – that we’re sliding into hypocrisy, or if we are maintaining rituals instead of relationship? What do we do? This verse tells us: Repent! That means: Stop, turn around, and get right back on the path.
Don’t keep walking forward if you’re off the path – you’ll get further and further from God if you keep going that way. You won’t ‘happen upon the path’ by going the wrong direction. Stop, turn around, and get back on the path. Come back to God. And that starts by confession.
Confess to God, maybe confess to your spouse or your accountability partner or a godly friend – that you’ve been on the wrong path and you want to be on the right path again.
And secondly, 23But giving thanks is a sacrifice that truly honours me. If you keep to my path, I will reveal to you the salvation of God.’
If you keep to My path, says the LORD, I will reveal to you my salvation.
Salvation isn’t just ‘going to heaven one day when I die’. Salvation is all-encompassing. Salvation is a right relationship with God here in this life. Salvation is a right relationship with others. Salvation is right living that leads to blessing. Salvation is life and life in abundance. Salvation is a wholesome, complete, deep reality that is separate and different from a life of ritualism and hypocrisy.
God wants to give you salvation. God wants to give you wholeness and life. He wants to give these to you so bad that He’s willing to DIE that you might have it. And you – are you willing to turn back to Him that you might have it to?
Maybe you’re asking, ‘How do I do this?’ Ask Him – ask God, ‘Am I pretending with You? Am I living a different life with my unbelieving colleagues than I am at Church?’ Pray the prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.”
As we close tonight I’m going to read this Psalm to you again, from beginning to end. I never do this, but I want you to hear it in its entirety, because I feel so strongly that this is what God wants you to hear tonight. So please listen all the way through.
God – what a powerful and awesome and majestic God You are! Who can compare? None can. No god, no religion, no philosophy, no political or social movement is like You. You’re bigger, stronger and sovereign over all created things. And You’re completely self-sufficient. I confess, Lord, that I often go about Your work with a cold, cold heart. And then I often expect Your thanks and favour for it. Please forgive me for that sin. Please forgive me also for not living what I preach and teach to others, and by living in hypocrisy giving others excuse to sin.
But thank You, Jesus, that there’s grace. Thank You, Jesus, that as I lean on You, You are able to make my path straight. Thank You, Jesus, for Your promise of life and salvation which is for those who turn away from the wrong paths they’ve been on and instead trust in You and follow after You in Your way.
So I ask with open heart tonight: Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends You, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.