Sermon on Ps. 36:1-12, preached on 22 July 2018.
Bible Readings: (OT) Psalm 36 / (NT) John 1:1-18
I. The wickedness of men (vs. 1-4)
II. The lovingkindness of God (vs. 5-6)
III. The flee of God’s people (vs. 7-9)
Conclusion: The prayer of God’s people (vs. 10-12)
This thirty-sixth psalm contrasts man with God. More specifically, it depicts what portrays each party the best. So, for mankind their wickedness and for God His lovingkindness are discerned. Vs. 1-4 describe man’s wickedness and the following two verses (vs. 5-6) illustrate God’s lovingkindness or His ‘steadfast love’ that is in action. Then, the next three verses (vs. 7-9) tell us about the flee of God’s people, and the last three verses (vs. 10-12) conclude it all in a form of prayer of all who have been saved by the Lord’s lovingkindness.
It is interesting to see in a psalm such a comparison made between God and man. It’s not a common theme among one hundred and fifty psalms of the Bible. Usually, the contrast or comparison evident in psalms is between the righteous and the wicked, between God’s people and the unbelievers. Typical examples are the first and the thirty-seventh psalms. Ps. 1, for example, is quite familiar to our ears, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners … The wicked are … like chaff that the wind drives away.” But the thirty-seventh psalm contrasts the wicked with the righteous, saying that ‘the wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him.’ But this thirty-sixth psalm we’ve just read contrasts the difference between God and man, between God’s lovingkindness and man’s wickedness.
By contrasting, this psalm answers to the fundamental question every human heart asks, that is, ‘who I am (and who we are) and who God is.’ This is in fact a foundational and rudimentary matter to every mind, like meat and potatoes to every mouth. Like our first Bible reading from Jn. 1 leads us to the origin of the Word Incarnate, that is, Jesus Christ our Lord, this thirty-sixth psalm leads us to the naked and unadorned face of man, then, to the immeasurable depth of God’s grace and love toward man. By this stark contrast, the Holy Spirit urges us who are saved and dwell in the Lord to thank Him for His marvellous love and grace, and invites everyone who hasn’t found the only Saviour of the world to believe and enjoy His immeasurable lovingkindness. So, let us follow the Holy Spirit through His word.
I. THE WICKEDNESS OF MAN (vs. 1-4)
The first four verses we’ve read speak about man and his ‘wickedness.’ This is not a slander against humankind, nor a voice of a man hater at all. But, this section is about the main characteristics of mankind. When anything in the created world is considered, we have a picture that describes what it is. For example, ‘Australian outback’ brings up a picture of a red soiled, vast, arid and unpopulated land. Likewise, lions in Africa immediately give us an idea of what they are and so do such things as humpback whales, pine trees, lime stone and eagles, just to name a few. ‘Wickedness’ is the picture of mankind. I believe that you remember what you heard from the last Sunday’s message based on Ps. 19. In that message, I pointed out that it was so strange and weird to think about mankind and our rejection of our Creator. We’re the only creatures among millions and billions of created beings that deny and reject our Creator God. All things – both living and breathless – reveal God’s glory, but not so with men. We claim our own autonomy, rather than recognising or submitting to God’s sovereignty. In the entire universe, we’re the only species in sin! So, wickedness is the picture of mankind.
V. 1 depicts this with these words: “Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God before his eyes.” Having this verse as a summary, vs. 2-4 give us further details of man’s wickedness. V. 2 says that man who has no fear of God ‘flatters’ himself, saying that his sins ‘cannot be found out and hated.’ By this, he despises God, hypnotising his own mind with a falsehood. He not only fills his heart and mind, but also brims it with this arrogant lie. Then, it comes out through his mouth, as v. 3 points out, as trouble and deceit. This verse continues and tells us that this wicked man “has ceased to act wisely and do good,” meaning that there is no hope for him to come back from his wickedness, like a stone dropped into the sea never comes back to the surface of water. Once again, this is not a slander or backbiting; this is not a voice of a pitiless man hater. This is the voice of the Creator God, therefore, the fact and truth about mankind.
In our world, there are more than plenty proofs for this truth. Numerous wars in human history and massacres show human mass insanity; various kinds of evil are recommended and even exalted by this world. In our day and age, evil doers stride in pride on the streets and their voices echo every street and corner. Their voices say exactly what vs. 2 and 3 tell us, having no fear of God in their minds.
Furthermore, v. 4 reminds us of another aspect of the wicked heart of man that he never stops devising more evil in his heart. It says, “[man] plots trouble while on his bed … he does not reject evil.” The time for bed is a time for rest, having completed a day’s work. But this wicked man plots more trouble for tomorrow. If, though rarely, his already wicked conscience convicts his evil for the day, he immediately rejects its voice and welcomes any hint that leads to more trouble for tomorrow. This is a vivid picture of man.
The word in Ps. 94:8-11 is a thunder from heaven, the righteous God’s answer for the wicked man: “Understand, O dullest of the people! Fools, when will you be wise? He who planted the ear, does He not hear? He who formed the eye, does He not see? He who disciplines the nations, does He not rebuke? He who teaches man knowledge – the LORD – knows the thoughts of man, that they are but a breath.” The portrait of mankind is our wickedness.
II. THE LOVINGKINDNESS OF GOD (vs. 5-6)
Then, the focus of the psalm is suddenly shifted in vs. 5-6 to God and His steadfast love – or in other word, ‘lovingkindness.’ His love extended to the heavens and all living beings on earth.
Here, we need to see the psalmist’s purpose. He does not merely state God’s characteristics here; he does not just repeat plain statements and say, ‘God is good; God is love; God is gracious.’ No, that’s not the psalmist’s intention. Rather, he first realises what God does in His steadfast love, in His lovingkindness, then, shares with us in v. 6 the effect of that divine love, saying, “man and beast You save, O LORD.” All men and beasts on earth exist and continue their being by the Lord’s lovingkindness. Consider who we are. Men are wicked in their thoughts, plans and deeds, and they’ll never abandon their wickedness. They only proceed from bad to worse in all they do. Yet, God preserves them all on earth till each one’s set time is up! Here, ‘save’ doesn’t mean Christian salvation, but simply ‘preservation of their breaths.’ So, God allows all men to continue their wicked lives, rather than stopping them or destroying them all at once. How could God let the wicked men live? This lovingkindness of God truly amazes the psalmist because such a favour is an incomprehensible mystery to the wicked human eyes and heart.
So, the psalmist’s heart is blown away by God’s great and vast and deep love and kindness for and forbearance toward mankind! He exclaims, therefore, in v. 5, “Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the clouds.” The Lord’s righteousness is like “the mountains of God” and His judgments are like “the great deep,” he continues in v. 6.
Truth is that man’s heart can never comprehend the Lord’s lovingkindness toward him; His way is unsearchable because it’s too great and deep. This is a serious problem with all of mankind. No man understands how stunningly incomprehensible God’s kindness is. The world has always existed and so have all human beings. One generation came and left while another replaces their predecessors. No matter how evil one generation is, that generation always completes its given time before giving its place to the next. No generation so far has been eradicated by God from the face of the earth because of their wickedness. Seeing this, even some Christians don’t really get it, let alone the unbelievers. All kinds and levels of evil take place in this world, and not many eyes are marvelled with the Lord’s kind favour toward mankind; He doesn’t destroy them!
So, every breath we take is God’s lovingkindness; the life of everyone – either saved or unsaved – is on God’s gracious hand. This is what Job 12:10 talks about, saying, “in [God’s] hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind” and the Apostle Paul echoes it in Acts 17:28 in these words, “In [God] we live and move and have our being.” The more and clearer one understands this, the deeper his/her confession for sin and unworthiness for God’s grace will be and the greater that person’s praise and thanks to God for His love becomes!
III. THE FLEE OF GOD’S PEOPLE (vs. 7-9)
Everyone who has found this lovingkindness of God, not by his eyesight, but by the Lord’s grace, confesses like the psalmist does in v. 7, “How precious is Your steadfast love, O God!” In other words, ‘How it exceeds all that we could have anticipated!’ or ‘How far it does go beyond all that we deserve!’ This is the grace Paul talks about in Eph. 1:6 in these words, “to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed us in the Beloved.” Also in Eph. 2:5 and 7, “even when we were dead in our trespasses, [God] made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved … so that in the coming ages He might show the immeasurable riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” By this love and grace, “the children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings,” the psalmist says in v. 7 of our text passage. One sees and finds preciousness of God’s lovingkindness, though faint and unclear it might be to his eyes in beginning, he flees under it.
And all who take refuge in God enjoy the abundance of His lovingkindness. See what vs. 8-9 say. They “feast on the abundance of [the Lord’s] house and [God gives] them drink from the river of [His] delights.” Being with the Lord God is “the fountain of life,” says v. 9. They even see light in God’s light. How amazing this is! Doesn’t this overwhelm your heart and mind and soul? All others who reject the Lord perish in their sins, never knowing this joy. Though they continue their life by God’s lovingkindness, they never see His abundant love, let alone understanding it! But all who flee to Him feast in His house!
Truth is that such is the life you and I enjoy even now. Our feast on the abundance of the Lord’s house has already begun since we fled and began resting in God’s grace. Hearing God’s word expounded to our souls in addition to reading it is the bread we receive from the hand of the Lord; our prayers and praises made to God in the Lord Jesus’ name and this joy we receive in our hearts is the drink we enjoy in the Lord’s house. What about our mutual fellowship? This is the light we see in the Lord Jesus and our Father in heaven!
So, the clearer you see preciousness of God’s love for you, the surer your faith in Him is and the deeper your joy of feasting in the Lord’s house is.
CONCLUSION: THE PRAYER OF GOD’S PEOPLE (vs. 10-12)
Then, it is natural for the children of God to say the words recorded in vs. 10-12. It’s a prayer of those who belong to God and feast in His house. Let’s simply hear this prayer (I’ll paraphrase these verses): ‘Oh, continue Your steadfast love to us who know You, Father, and Your righteousness to the upright of heart! Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me or any of Your dear children, nor the hand of the wicked drive us away. There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise.’
This is in fact in line with our Lord Jesus’ prayer for His disciples and all of us who believe. He prayed this before His suffering and crucifixion as recorded in Jn. 17 which is often known to us as ‘Jesus’ High Priestly prayer.’ Let me read you a few verses of Jn. 17: “Holy Father, keep them in Your name … now I am coming to You, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have My joy fulfilled in themselves. I have given them Your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. … Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”
This is your prayer and mine together with all believing souls on earth. We seek the Lord’s lovingkindness, and His hand to hold us firmly till we see Him face to face!
So, our conclusion is twofold: first, we must renounce any hope we’ve upheld for the world and this evil generation. Why? Because every man is wicked and so is this present evil generation. And second, we must flee to God and rest in Him, hoping only in the Lord Jesus and rejoicing in His grace as He renews our hope daily. May the Lord engrave His lovingkindness onto our hearts, refreshing our joy in the Lord every moment of our life. Amen. ***