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Sunday, February 21, 2021

"My Feet Had Almost Slipped" Psalm 73 [Matt's Messages]

“My Feet Had Almost Slipped”
Lanse Evangelical Free Church
February 21, 2021 :: Psalm 73

Psalm 73 is a song that tells a story. 

It’s a good story with a happy ending.

But it’s a scary story. It’s a cautionary tale.

Psalm 73 is a song that tells the story of a man who almost slipped and fell hard.

He almost did. In the end, he regained his balance, but he almost went down and took others with him.

We sure have had a lot of snow and ice around here, haven’t we? A couple weeks ago right before Prayer Meeting, I took a fall out on the ice.

I was, ironically, out spreading coal ashes so that our vehicles could get in and out over the ice. So I had this big bucket of ashes, and I was walking around dumping them in a wide arc, and then all of a sudden, I had that feeling that I was going to fall.

And I thought I had it, but then...wham! Down I went on this shoulder over here. Still hurts a bit when I put on my coat. But nothing was broken, and I was able to get up and even spread some more ashes and make it to Prayer Meeting on time.

But that wasn’t the last time I felt like I was going to slip. There’s more ice out there right now.

And often I worry that I’m going to reach out to Heather Joy on one of our walks down Viaduct Road and pull her down with me!

Well, that feeling, that reality, of almost going down and almost taking others with you is metaphorically what this songwriter, a Israeli worship leader named “Asaph,” was feeling when he wrote Psalm 73.

Let me read to you the first three verses of Psalm 73.

“A psalm of Asaph. Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”


Asaph wrote a bunch of the psalms, but I don’t think we’ve looked at any of his yet in the two dozen we’ve studied so far in this series.

This is the first psalm of the third book of the Psalms. 

In Psalm 73, Asaph wrote a testimony song about his own experience of almost slipping that he uses to teach the wisdom that he’s gained from that experience to you and me.

He starts at the end of the story in verse 1. Just to make sure you know that it’s going to have a happy ending.

“Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.”

That’s true! And that’s where he’s going to end his story in verse 28 with the goodness of God to those who love Him and are near Him.

God is truly good to His covenant people.

But! This song is about a scary time in Asaph’s life. A near disaster. A crisis of faith in Asaph’s heart. A time when his heart was not pure, and he wasn’t at all sure that God was actually good. Verse 2 again.

“But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.”

I just about went down!

And here’s where I got tripped up (v.3).

“For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.”

I only have two major points of application to make in this message (one covering verses 1 through 15, and the other drawn from verses 16 through 28), and here’s the first big one:

#1. DON’T SLIP BY ENVYING WHAT THE WICKED HAVE.

Asaph was nearly taken down by his own envy of the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.

Asaph discerned a pattern that contradicted what he thought should be.

He perceived that the wicked, the evil, the bad guys in this world were often experiencing prosperity.

Good things were happening to bad people.

Often we feel and articulate the problem of evil as “Why do bad things happen to good people?” 

But Aspah was feeling the question, “Why do good things happen to bad people?”

“And if that’s how it actually works, why not be a bit of a bad person myself?”

Now, it’s possible that Asaph’s envy was blinding him to some of the realities of how things actually are. Often, the wicked do not prosper even in this life. And the Lord often does bless His people even in this life.

But you have to admit that Asaph had a point.

When you look out there on the world, we do see a lot of good things coming to bad people, right?

Do I need to convince you of that?

In his song, Asaph gives us some examples. Verse 4.

“They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.”

He sounds envious, doesn’t he?

These guys have it all. They are free from “disease and disaster” (John Stott’s phrase).

They look great on Instagram. They have a 3 million followers on YouTube.

They are carefree and rolling in dough.

And they are proud of it! Verse 6.

“Therefore pride is their necklace [flaunted on display!]; they clothe themselves with violence. [Getting away with anything.] From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits [big boundless dreams and unlimited plans]. They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression [others will get hurt and have no say in it]. Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.”

Literally, “Their tongues strut through the earth.”

That just reeks of arrogance! They are successful. They are prosperous. And they let everybody know it.

And people just love them for it! Verse 10.

“Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance. [That’s a hard verse to translate from the Hebrew, but I think the NIV gets it basically right. People lap this stuff up! Folks like this are surrounded by a posse of sycophants who “accept everything they say without question” (Tremper Longman).] And they dare to question God Himself. Verse 11.] They say, ‘How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?’”

That’s the height of arrogance, right there, my friends.

They mock and defy God Himself. They say that if He exists (and He probably doesn’t), then He sure seems to be falling down on the job.

Asaph envied the arrogant. You can tell. Verse 12.

“This is what the wicked are like–always carefree, they increase in wealth. [And I wish I could get a piece of that! Verse 13.] Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.  All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.”

Asaph was suffering. He had been a “good little boy,” and yet he was suffering. We don’t know with what, but it was dogging his heels. “Every morning.” His trials, like God’s mercies, were new every morning. It felt like daily plague and daily punishment.

So what good did it to do to keep his hands clean? What good did it do to keep his nose clean?

Apparently, being “good” didn’t pay. But being “bad” sure seemed to.

“I thought Psalm 1 said that if I was in the Word every day that I would prosper in every way.

Well, I tried it, and it didn’t work. And those guys didn’t try it, and look at them! They’re getting away with it! There is no justice.”

He’s that close to a fall.

Now, one of the things I love about the Psalms is how raw and real they are, don’t you?

If you have ever felt this way (and who hasn’t?), there is a song for you to sing that feeling out in the Bible!

It’s so refreshing to read this honesty from this psalmist.

Don’t be afraid to tell God how you really feel.

Now, obviously, that doesn’t mean that your feelings are all right, all correct. Asaph was feeling the wrong thing and almost slipped, but he doesn’t have to hide that from God. And, in fact, he doesn’t even have to hide it from us. He sings about it for us. He tells us his experience so that we can learn from it, too.

Asaph was about to slip by envying the wicked for what they had, which seemed to be just about everything.

And, even worse, Asaph almost took others down with him. Verse 15.

“If I had said, ‘I will speak thus,’ I would have betrayed your children.”

If worship leader Asaph had then officially taught what he had been thinking and feeling, he would have not only gone down himself, but also led some of the precious children of Israel astray.

And he almost did!

He could not sort it all out. And it made him miserable. Verse 16.

“When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”

This is the turning point of the song and the turning point of the story.

Asaph experienced a moment of truth that changed his whole perspective. What was it? Verse 17 again.

“[I]t was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God...” 

Asaph went into the tabernacle or temple. Whichever one it was at that point.

And he met God in worship.

We don’t know what happened in there!

We don’t know exactly what Asaph experienced.

I tend to think it was just the regular old trip to the temple and looking around at what goes on there.

Sacrifices. Blood on the altar. The bread and the candles that marked the presence of God, the veil of the Holy of Holies. The great reminders of the majesty and splendor and holiness of God.

Whatever it was exactly, Asaph entered the sanctuary of God and came out with a new perspective on everything.

Especially on where everything is headed.

“...I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.”

After his encounter with God, Asaph saw that things are not as they might seem.

After his encounter with God, Asaph saw that things are not as they are going to be!

I think Asaph got a view of eternity.

He saw not just what the wicked have now, but what was coming to them.

And it wasn’t something to envy. Verse 18.

“Surely [same word as verse 1. "Surely"] you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. [They are the ones who are going to slip!] How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors! As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.”

Now, that’s scary! Asaph sings that when the time comes, when the time is ripe, the Lord will like wake up and shrug off the wicked like a bad dream. Their present pleasures are going to fall off like the phantasms they are. And they are going down, down, down.

What scary words, “O Lord, you will despise them.” When that happens, no one in the universe will envy them then.

I’m sure that plenty of onlookers envied the rich travelers that boarded the Titanic on April 10, 1912. But no one was envying them on April 16th!

Don’t slip into envying the wicked for what they have.

In the sanctuary of God, Asaph got a glimpse of where the wicked were headed.

And he was reminded of what he really had.

That’s the second big point of application from Psalm 73 today:

#2. DON’T FORGET THAT YOU HAVE EVERYTHING!

You won’t slip if you see and savor everything you have because, in having God, you have everything.

Asaph almost slipped and lost everything. And he felt it deep in his psyche. Verse 21.

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.”

Notice that he’s saying that while his envious feelings were natural, they were still totally wrong. He was beastly and mindless and sub-human in his thinking.

Because he was forgetting what he had in God!

His feet had almost slipped, but God had not let him go down. V.23

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.”

These last six verses of Psalm 73 are just magnificent. They just sing of the glorious goodness of knowing God! This is what we call around here, “A life-changing relationship with the Lord.”

He says, “I am always with you.”

Now, he could have said (like Psalm 139 we read last month) that God is always with him.

But he says it the other way around to mean the same thing, but to emphasize how safe it makes him feel.

“I’m with Him! I’m always with Him.”

In fact, he holds me by my right hand.

I am that secure.

Like a little kid, “Daddy’s got me by my right hand.”

How good it is!

He says, “You guide me with your counsel.” God’s own counsel. God’s own guidance.

“And afterward you will take me into glory.”
That word “afterward” is the same root word translated “final destiny” in verse 17.

Asaph knows not just where the wicked will be going, but by God’s grace, he knows where he will end up, as well.

“You will take me into glory.”

Wow. Amazing what a little bit of true worship can do in your life?!

That changes things, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t answer every theological question about why good things happen to bad people. Why God allows the wicked to prosper for a time.

Or why there is so much suffering of God’s people for a time.

But it does show that everything is not as it seems.

And everything is not as it is will be.

And it also shows us that if we have God, we have everything. Verse 25.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? [Nobody; but what else do I need?] And earth has nothing I desire besides you. [If I have You, I have everything!] My flesh and my heart may fail [I may fall apart and die!], but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

That word “strength” is literally, “Rock.”

God is the rock of my heart.

The stability and strength of my heart.

If God is the stabilizing rock of your heart, you will not slip and fall!

He is your “portion” forever.

That’s like your inheritance.

Your piece of the pie. God is your piece of the pie.

Is that enough? That’s everything!

Don’t forget that you have everything.

Do you realize you have everything?

Unless, of course, you don’t.

The song ends with a choice to make.

It’s a pretty obvious choice when you put it like Asaph does, but things don’t always feel like this out there in real life.

We need songs like Psalm 73 to bring the reality home to us. Listen to verse 27 as Asaph brings it all home.

“Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.”

Far from God. The wicked are far from God.

They might have all the VIP trappings now, but they are soon headed for total destruction. 

And that includes those who claim to know God but don’t really. “All who are unfaithful” like the adulterous apostasy that Asaph was flirting with.

“[Y]ou destroy all who are unfaithful to you.”

That’s one side. Here’s the other. Verse 28.

“But as for me [here’s the happy ending to the scary story of this song! But as for me], it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”

It is so good to be near God. If you have Him, you will not slip, and you will have everything! Come near to God. Repent and put your faith and hope in Jesus Christ and His blood.

You’ll be safe from all alarms, “I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.”

And instead of slipping and taking other people down, you’ll speak out and take other people up with you to glory.

“I will tell of all your deeds.”

Like right now, right here, giving testimony to the goodness of God.

Come near and go tell others that, in God, they can have everything that truly matters forever!

***

Fortifying Truth - Psalms - Fall 2020 / Winter 2021

01. Majestic and Mindful - Psalm 8
02. All Our Days - Psalm 90
03. "The LORD on High Is Mighty!" - Psalm 93
04. "The LORD Is My Shepherd" - Psalm 23
05. "Praise the LORD, O My Soul!" - Psalm 103
06. "The Blessing of Aaron's Oily Beard" - Psalm 133
07. "A Dying Thirst for the Living God" - Psalm 42
08. "Our Fortress" - Psalm 46
09. Unrestless - Psalm 131
10. "Sun and Shield" - Psalm 84
11. "With Songs of Joy" - Psalm 126
12. "His Love Endures Forever" - Psalm 136
13. "How Many Are Your Works, O LORD!" - Psalm 104
14. "My Soul Waits for the Lord" - Psalm 130
15. "Remember David" - Psalm 132
16. "My Son" - Psalm 2
17. "Search Me" - Psalm 139
18. "Cleanse Me" - Psalm 51
19. "A New Song" - Psalm 96
20. "Hear My Prayer, O LORD." - Psalm 86
21. "May All the Peoples Praise" - Psalm 67

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