September 30, 2018
Good morning. If you have your Bible, turn to Psalm 50. Over the past few months, we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews. As you know, this letter was written to a group of discouraged Jewish Christians. Apparently, many of these news believers had decided to go back to an Old Covenant lifestyle. The old way was more convenient, more tangible. And it came with less suffering. They were discovering that the new way of the cross was difficult. So, many of these well-meaning Jewish believers abandoned Christ, picked up their knives and returned to the temple to sacrifice animals. The author wrote this letter to make it abundantly clear that Jesus is better! If they walked away from Jesus, they weren’t simply choosing a different form of worship; they were walking away from God.
This morning I want to reinforce the main idea of the book of Hebrews by looking at it from the Old Testament. If the message of Hebrews is “don’t go back,” the message of Psalm 50 (and much of the OT) could be “don’t come back!” The Jewish Christians returning to the Old Covenant would not have found a home because it wasn’t designed to be a permanent home. It was like the tabernacle – it was designed to be packed up when the Lord moved. The 1st Century Jewish Christians that walked away from Jesus would have picked up their old Bibles, read Psalm 50, and discovered that God had never desired the blood of animals anyway. God has always desired our hearts. That is what he desires of us this morning. Let’s read the text.
Psalm 50 A Psalm of Asaph.
 The Mighty One, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.
 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.
 Our God comes; he does not keep silence; before him is a devouring fire, around him a mighty tempest.
 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge! Selah
 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.
 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
 I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.
 For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
 I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.
 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.
 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,
 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
 But to the wicked God says:“What right have you to recite my statutes or take my covenant on your lips?
 For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him, and you keep company with adulterers.
 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.
 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son.
 These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
You might have noticed that whenever I get a chance to preach, I often preach from the psalms. The psalms are short, practical, and they often come with a built-in outline. But most importantly, the psalms teach us how to worship. I would imagine that the psalms have shaped your vocabulary for prayer and worship more than any other portion of the Bible. But Psalm 50 is different. Perhaps you noticed this when we read it, but in Psalm 50, we are not speaking to God. He is speaking to us. And his words are very sharp. In fact, it almost sounds like it came from the Minor Prophets. The language is strong because the text is organized like a courtroom drama. God has come to judge the world. Our outline will resemble a cosmic trial. Here’s the outline.
- God calls the court to order (1-6)
- God presents his first argument against the blind legalist (7-13)
- God presents his second argument against the hardened hypocrite (16-21)
- God issues the verdict (14-15; 22-23)
Part 1 – God calls the court to order (1-6)
The first few verses of this psalm set the stage for this dramatic courtroom trial. The Mighty One, God, the Lord has broken his silence. He has come in a tempest, surrounded by fire. He has assembled the heavens and the earth to witness this trial. Now, as terrifying as this language is, I can’t help but think that many of the Israelites got excited to hear these opening verses. They were waiting for this day. Read through the rest of the psalms: God’s people were constantly crying out for justice. How long will you be silent? How long will my enemies triumph over me? In verse 3, God has finally broken his silence.
But then, in verse 4, the craziest thing happens. As the entire world watches, God takes Israel out of the plaintiff’s seat and places her on the stand. Look at the text: He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people. Psalm 50 is a trial against God’s people. This is shocking. And yet, it makes perfect sense. God held his covenant people to a very high standard. He had given his people his law so that they would be a light to the nations. Listen to Moses in Deuteronomy 4:5-7. This is a very important text in the OT that explains the purpose of the Old Covenant.
 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’  For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him?
And yet, by the time Psalm 50 was written, they had completely abused the law. They were obeying the rituals, but their hearts were far from God. They had become just like the pagan nations around them. And so God put them on trial to purify them.
Now, before we move on, we should acknowledge that this is not simply an Old Testament theme. 1 Peter 4:17 says that judgment begins in the household of God. Hebrews is filled with warning passages. As God’s New Covenant people, we must constantly evaluate the condition of our heart. I believe the modern church has grown comfortable in the plaintiff’s seat. Like the psalms, we lament the rise of godlessness in the world and cry out for justice. But we need to remember that God calls us to the stand first. If we do not clearly understand and embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, how will we ever proclaim it to a dark and dying world? I imagine that most of us “believe” the gospel, but has it changed our lives? Does the world look at us and say, “Wow – what kind of a God do they serve?”
And so the trial has begun. God will now make his first argument against his people. This is the second part of the outline. He will speak against to the blind legalist. Verse 7:
 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you. I am God, your God.  Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you; your burnt offerings are continually before me.
You might think that God was calling them to the stand because they had neglected his law. But the exact opposite is true. They were extremely religious. God was judging them because they had trusted in their religion too much. They were showing up to the temple with their sacrifices, but they had completely missed the point of the sacrifices. They thought that if they blindly obeyed the law, God would be pleased.
This is, after all, what the pagan gods require of their people. Just give me some goat blood and I’ll give you rain or fertility or whatever you need. The pagan gods were needy and demanding. They were transactional. And quite frankly, they were miserable to serve. You never knew when you’d upset them, so you had to be extremely devoted. But the God of Israel was not a pagan god. Look at the text:  I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds.  For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.  I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine.  “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine.  Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
Israel’s blind, ritual legalism assumed a horrible view of God. It made him look like a dependent, hangry deity.
God didn’t need their sacrifices. But this brings up a difficult question: if God didn’t need the animal blood, why did he give them a bloody system? This is a complex issue, but let me offer two suggestions. First, the animal sacrifice did not save them, but the sacrifice did serve a purpose. The sacrificial system was a daily reminder – and a very graphic reminder – that sin requires death. God was gracious enough to offer a substitute, but something had to die. He was laying the groundwork for them to understand the gospel. (They missed it because they were blindly going through the motions).
But second, the sacrificial system was designed to engage their heart. If they offered a bull for the forgiveness of sin, but their hearts weren’t actually repentant, they weren’t forgiven and the bull really was a waste. The goal of the system was faith. The system was designed to trigger their heart. Next time you read through Leviticus, listen to Moses describe the ritual. It wasn’t a disembodied transaction, like online shopping. It was smelly and bloody and loud. They were instructed to lay their hand on the head of the animal. They were to slit the throat & watch the blood flow. They were to feel the animal struggle and give up its life. The system was designed to break their heart and encourage faith.
A few years ago, I heard a man describe how he had killed a deer with a pocketknife. Like any good story, I’m sure it was embellished, but I was hooked. He said that had to stalk the deer for a very long time. As you can imagine, without a gun you have to wait for the right moment. But finally, he was able to get close enough to the deer to grab his antlers and jump on. The deer dragged him for a while, but he managed to get out his pocked knife and slit the deer’s throat. After a very long struggle, he could finally feel the life leave the deer. This man was not a Christian, but his instinct in that moment – as the blood was washing over him – was to say a prayer to thank the spirit of the deer because he realized the deer had died for him. This bloody event produced gratitude, even if it was misplaced.
Though this man is not a believer, he had an experience that would help him grasp the gospel better than I ever will. This is what God gave the Israelites. The system was designed to break their hearts. The goal of the system was joy and gratitude and faith. But that is not how the Israelites were using it. They were trusting in their part of the process. They proudly cut the animal’s throat, as if they were offering God a favor. Psalm 50 makes it clear that God didn’t want the blood of the animal. He wanted the heart of his people.
We should pause here for a moment to shine the spotlight on our own hearts. It’s easy to call out the Israelites – or the early Jewish Christians that were leaving the church and returning to this old system. But have we adopted a legalistic mentality in our own worship? Are we blindly going through the motions? Let me ask it a bit more provocatively: are we worshipping the living God of the Bible or have we turned to a Christinized version of a pagan, secular god? Think about the rituals and disciplines and habits in your Christian life. Do they make you thankful or do they make you miserable? Are you trying to earn favor with God by your devotions and church attendance and volunteering and giving? Does he really need those things? The pagan gods might be so demanding of you, but that’s not how Jesus works. Listen to this line from the old hymn:
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
You cannot impress God with your religious ritual or church service. If you think the creator and sustainer of the universe is actually impressed with your 2 hour devotional this morning, you have a very low view of God. If we think that he needs us to serve at our church, we are badly mistaken. He let’s us be part of a community that is becoming and multiplying disciples of Jesus. The rituals and liturgies and worship services in our lives are designed to engage the heart toward worship. God wants us, not our blind obedience.
Let’s move to the next point. God makes his second argument against the hardened hypocrite. If you thought the first argument was intense, you might want to buckle up for this next one. In verse 16, God calls the “wicked” to the stand. Now, he is still talking to his own people, but He’s specifically addressing those who used religious language as a cover for a wicked life. They recited the creeds and confessions from memory, but their behavior did not line up with their beliefs. They claimed to know God, but lived like he was dead.
The text specifically highlights three sins – they had abused the 7th, 8th, and 9th commandments. But the wording is interesting. They weren’t fully absorbed in adultery and stealing, but they were flirting with them. Look at verse 18: They were pleased with thieves. They kept company with adulterers. They weren’t specifically stealing or cheating, but they were associating with that lifestyle. They did, however, give their tongue full reign for evil. The 9th commandment is much easier to break in religious circles. You can’t rob a bank in the church and get away with it, but you can certainly slander your brother and get away with it. As one commentator said, these people had combined Wickedness & Worship. And as you can imagine, that was detestable to God. It comes to a head in v. 21
These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
This verse is chilling to me. They had broken the law, and it seemed like they were going to get away with it. They lied and nothing happened. They gossiped and tore down the reputation of their brothers and sisters, but God was silent. So eventually the people determined that God wasn’t going to do a thing about it. He’s just like one of us. As long as I pay my tithes and say the right things in worship, I’ll be fine.
Once again, we should shine the spotlight on our own hearts. Have we adopted this attitude? In my opinion, this is one of the most serious issues for a church living in a secular age. We show up at church but we act like God doesn’t exist the rest of the week. We keep a clean appearance while our souls waste away. Did your world fall apart when you smeared your co-worker’s reputation? Probably not. In fact, you might have made a friend in the office. Were you struck by lightning the last time you looked at inappropriate images online? No, you closed the computer or app and went on with your day. Maybe you’re not committing adultery, but you’re keeping company with them in your books or Netflix originals. Everyone else is watching it too. Maybe you’re harboring hatred toward your roommate or spouse, but nothing has happened to you, so keep it up.
Here’s a terrifying thought: sometimes you get away with sin. If you’re not careful, you might conclude that God doesn’t care. Maybe he doesn’t even see. Just keep showing up at church and it’ll all work out fine. If you have adopted this mentality, let’s move to the final point in the outline.
God will now deliver his verdict. How will God react to his wayward people? (Can we pause for a moment and acknowledge how terrifying this is? We are all guilty). The verdict is clothed in strong language, but it is not designed to crush his people; it’s designed to cleanse them. The pagan gods would not have responded this way. They are neither holy nor merciful. Our God is both. He holds his people to a very high standard, but he knows we are weak. He offers us grace in his judgment. There are three points I want to emphasize from this verdict. First, God offers his people a chance to repent. Look at verses 21-22 again:  These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.  Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
God does see and he does care. But instead of crushing us, he gives us an opportunity to change. Mark your ways, you who forget God. If we refuse to repent, judgment will come. We will be torn apart with none to deliver. This is serious language. We should remember that this eventually happened to Israel. They refused to repent and were carried off. And yet, God, knowing that we were weak, sent his Son Jesus to be torn apart for us. We have even more reason as the church to consider our ways and repent. We were spared judgment because Christ suffered for us.
If you find yourself tending toward blind religion or hardened hypocrisy this morning, I want to invite you to repent. We tend to think of repentance as a negative concept. We need to cover ourselves in dirt and ashes and sulk for a few weeks before God will have us back. But the Greek word for repent, metanoia, is actually quite positive. It’s like taking a shower after a long day of work. It feels really good to be clean. It is something we should desire. If you have been convicted from God’s word this morning, I want to invite you to repent. Receive his grace and be clean. You can stand before the Lord pure and blameless.
So, first, we need to repent. Second, we need to cry out in faith. Look at verse 15:
…call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
This is beautiful. As God delivers his verdict, he simply wants his people to cry out to them in their day of trouble. He doesn’t want another lamb. He doesn’t want us to try to atone for our own mistakes. He simply wants us to cry out in faith. This pleases God. (What an amazing God we serve). Listen to the very next Psalm, written by David in his day of trouble. He had made a mess of his life, and yet he didn’t attempt to atone for it on his own. He simply gave God what God desired most: Psalm 51-
 For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
How would Israel’s pagan neighbors have responded to days of trouble – a famine or infertility or sickness or relational strain? They would have gone to the folds and offered more sheep. They needed to serve the gods in order to be saved. Our God is different. He wants us to cry out to him in days of trouble, so that he can receive the glory. Repent and believe.
The third verdict comes in verses 14 and 23. God wants a thankful heart. This is the point of the entire text, and of the entire sacrificial system, and of the entire gospel. God’s work in our life should produce gratitude.
 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High,
 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!”
And so we repent, we cry out in faith, and we offer him thanksgiving. That is what God desires. God is not impressed by your animals or your money or your knowledge or opinions. He simply wants you to raise your empty hands to Jesus and say, “Thank you!”
This is the paradox of the gospel: The sacrifice that God desires is not something you can produce on your own. Blind legalists and hardened hypocrites can fake a religious life, but it is very phony. You can’t fake gratitude. Gratitude only comes when you hear the gospel, repent, and believe. This is what God wants. He gets the glory and we get salvation.
So, we cannot produce gratitude, but I believe that we can cultivate it. As we close, let me offer a few quick suggestions for you and your family to cultivate gratitude. First, remember. This is hard for guys like me that aren’t very sentimental. I’m always looking ahead. But my wife is slowly showing me the value of remembering. It is good to stop and look back. They do this all the time in the Bible. And so sometime this week, stop for a moment and remember what God has done for you. If you never stop to look back, you’ll never give gratitude time to grow. Second, celebrate. Thanksgiving is almost always associated with a party. If God has worked in your life, throw a party. Kill the fattened calf this week. Build an altar. The OT people of God had feasts to celebrate and remember God’s faithfulness. As the church, we get to do this all year long! Blind legalists are too busy to celebrate and hardened hypocrites are too guilty to celebrate. If you have been saved by grace, you can celebrate. Finally, proclaim & give. When your heart has been transformed by the gospel, you are finally ready to share it. I’ll close with Hebrews 13:15–16
 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name.  Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.