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Meditations of Life and Death | Psalm 36

As preached by Andrew Thompson.

Meditation 1) The Heart & Mind of the Wicked Meditation

2) The Abundance of God's Character

The Proper Response: Prayer

“Meditations of Life and Death” Psalm 36 Christ Fellowship Church American Fork, UT August 13, 2023

A couple of weeks ago, I was at home with Silas and Aiden, and I was doing dishes in the kitchen while they played in the living room behind me. It was all going well for a few minutes. Aiden was playing with magnet tiles and I could hear Silas making sound effects for some imaginary world. As I was doing the dishes though, I heard Silas say in a deep voice, “I am God.” My shoulders dropped, and I turned off the water so I could go talk to my son and straighten out his theology. But as I started to turn, I heard him say in his normal voice, “NO! There’s only one God! Pshew!” I got a good laugh out of it, and seeing his theology was solid, I let him keep playing. This was a really exciting moment, as a parent, because each night, one of the questions we ask our kids is “How many gods are there?” and they respond with “One God.” In that moment, I got to see that 1) Silas is thinking about those questions in the middle of the day and 2) somewhere along the line, he has discerned that the fact that there is only one God is something worth fighting for. Silas hasn’t professed faith in Christ yet, but our hope is that as he continues to hear and meditate on the truths of who that only true God is and who Silas is, he will see and feel his neediness for God.

I told that story because it highlights the reality that our hearts and our minds are being shaped. It may not be as clear cut as someone asking you a question and you responding with the correct answer, but you are absolutely being shaped. Whether it be by books, TV, podcasts, social media, YouTube shorts, or work: all of us are meditating on things that are shaping our affections and many of those are trying to be the end that your affections lead you to seek. So I ask you to think: What are the rhythms of your meditations? In the forest of your mind, what thought-paths have you traveled so frequently that they have become well-worn trails? In your moments of silence and solitude, when you lay in bed at night, where does your mind wander and linger? The reality is that at the end of those paths, you can find the object of your affections. In Psalm 36, we see a great contrast between two meditations: a meditation on the reality of wickedness and a meditation on a faithful God that leads David to cling to God’s promises.

Meditation #1: The Heart and Mind of the Wicked (1-4) Take a second to look through verses 1-4 and just recognize the depth of this wickedness. This lines right up with God’s assessment of man right before the Noahic flood in Gen 6:5 “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” As David meditates on the wicked man, it’s like he is dissecting the wicked man’s meditations piece by piece. He starts by looking straight to the wicked man’s heart: deep in his heart, transgression *speaks*. It is not passive. This is like in Gen 4 when God tells Cain Sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” And think about how James speaks of desire and sin in James 1: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” The heart and desires of the wicked man breed sin that actively leads to his destruction, and he listens in communion with it. Then look as David lays out, in the rest of these four verses, the formational effect this dark communion has.

David moves from the recesses of the wicked man’s heart to his eyes: his view of his standing within Creation has become warped. He communes with sin, yet he does not fear God! This is peak arrogance. Proverbs 10 says The fear of the LORD is the beginning of all wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” But David goes on here to cement the foolishness of this man in his rejection of a proper fear of God. In verse 2, we see that rather than beholding God and saying “There is no fault in Him!” he beholds himself. He flatters himself and says, “No fault can be found in me.” Sin is active and sin destroys our understanding of reality. Sin would lead us to say “I am god, and in me is the standard by which all things are judged.” And then from this warped view flows a twisted word and deed. Look at verse 3 and we see that sin does not stay contained and hidden in the heart. It flows out from the heart into interactions with others. Which follows what Christ says in Matthew 12:34: “How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” The wicked man cannot prevent himself from speaking trouble and deceit and ceasing to act wisely because these are the abundance of his heart’s affections. Affections that find their deepest roots in something other than the God who provides and sustains all things will always produce the fruit of sin. And David says the wicked man seeks this out by orienting his life in this direction.

Look at verse 4. “He *plots* trouble in his bed.” The place set aside for rest becomes a seedbed for evil. He thinks ahead of ways to fulfill evil desires. Where the one who fears God is encouraged to lay down the worries and troubles of the day as they rest under the Providence and protection of God while looking forward to the new mercies of the morning, the wicked one looks to himself and his own ends. He schemes the troubles of tomorrow. “He *sets* himself in a way that is not good. He does not reject evil.” This is the completion of a hardened heart and seared conscience. The culmination of sin’s effect on the heart is that the wicked man is so warped by the whisperings of sin that he prepares for his pursuit of what is evil and rejects what is good.

Now up to this point, I've avoided what may be the most obvious question that arises from these verses: Who is David referring to when he talks of this wicked man? This person who so brazenly sets himself against God and takes pleasure in these depths of sin? Who is this deep in rebellion? The answer is that this is the condition of every single person apart from the gift of God’s Spirit through the work of Christ. If you are an unbeliever here today, I want you to hear this: what makes the Christians here Christians is not that we have found some way to live perfectly. It’s not that somehow through some effort of our own, we have attained a level of spiritual wisdom that makes us above sin. If you were here last week, I would remind you of the Sermon we received from Psalm 51, where David is clearly aware of deep and disgusting sin in his life. The confession of the Christian is never that “I have made myself worthy of good standing before God.” The Christian confession is that we look at Psalm 36:1-4 and say “this was completely true of me and I could do nothing to change it.” Like Paul says in Romans 5, we were *all* enemies* of God when Christ died for us, but Christ died for us. The only person throughout all of time whom these first four verses do not describe died and took the just judgement for sin that we deserved. Yes verses 1-4 describe me, but I know and have faith in the one they don’t, and his righteousness is accounted to me. Brothers and sisters, this is why it’s important that we take the time to meditate on the nature of sin in the wicked heart. If we misunderstand sin, in all of its depths, we will misunderstand the beauty and the work of our Savior. This leads us to the second meditation of the Psalm:

Meditation #2: The Abundant Character of Our God (5-9) The transition from verses 1-4 to verse 5 is, to say the least, abrupt. If you are trying to visualize the progression of the Psalm, you may even be in danger of some whiplash. Where verses 1-4 show the wicked man to be completely inward-focused, never seeing further than himself, David, starting in verse 5, shoots his eyes outward to make meditate on His God, and he worships. Look at verses 5-6. David calls our eyes to the limits of Creation, the places people across time have looked and felt small, that we might behold the limitlessness of our God.

First, David speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord and His faithfulness encompassing the skies. The words David uses here make us think of God in terms of love and commitment to His people and His word. What a pleasant way to conceive of God! But David doesn’t just throw these words out from nowhere as a happy possibility. These are the words God has given His people to conceive of Him. Exodus 34:6 The Lord proclaims to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” This is the lens by which the Lord wants His people to understand His relationship to them: steadfast love and faithfulness. This means that any belief or view you hold about God that would challenge or contradict this is false. Christians, some of you may have felt like you identified a bit too closely with the man in verses 1-4. Maybe you worry that you have crossed some line where you have severed your relationship with God beyond repair. No! His favor toward you has always been according to His steadfast love and faithfulness. Maybe you are young and immature in your faith, and you feel like God must not be caring for you as much because you aren’t understanding things as quickly as you’d like. No! His steadfast love and faithfulness are set for your good. Some here are in the throws of physical, mental, and spiritual battles, and you feel like God has forgotten you. NO! Steadfast love and faithfulness! Who has measured the heavens? So too, is the extent of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness toward you immeasurable. God has declared this, and He is not like man that He should lie, nor the son of man that He should repent. Our hope is set in nothing less than the perfect, eternal, unchanging God promising His unwavering love and affection toward His covenant people.

But David goes onto another couplet in verse 6. “Your righteousness is like the mountains of God. Your judgments are like the great deep.” What sinful man would dare to approach the God whose righteousness towers over them like the mighty mountains? A righteousness that remains unchanged and unmoved when all would try to defy it. Who would dare to commune with the God whose judgements are as unsearchable as depths of the oceans? The more we meditate on the God revealed in verses 5-6, the more broken and desperate the position of the heart in verses 1-4 is shown to be. But “man and beast you save, O LORD.” Just like in the Noahic Flood, God is delivering people corrupted by sin from day to day in His patience, calling them and inviting them to experience the relationship based on His steadfast love that I have been talking about. To any unbeliever here, know that God is truly offering you this if you would confess that the realities of verses 1-4 are true of you and you would have faith that God has done everything that is necessary for your reconciliation to Him in the work of Christ. Look at verses 7-9 and see how David continues to meditate on the relationship shaped by the abundance of God. [vs. 7-9] In these verses, David shifts from meditating on God in His sublime perfections to using words and pictures of close intimacy to meditate on God’s relationship with His people. His people are given refuge in the shadow of His wings. So intimate is our God’s love for us that it is appropriate for David to use the picture of a hen protecting her chicks to describe how He shelters us. He does not just stick us in some refuge away from trouble. He is our refuge in the midst of trouble. When the enemy would tear us apart in our weakness, He covers us with His infinite strength. We are brought into His house to feast on His abundance. So intimate is His giving of Himself that David says we drink from the river of His delights. What He loves is what He gives to quench our thirsty souls. With the God we have been brought to, is the fountain of life, and in His light do we see light.

There is language all over this section that hearkens back to the description of Eden, and when we read this with the expectation of Christ, this shouldn’t be surprising at all. In the Garden, God walked with man and, through Christ, God will dwell with man for eternity. Christ is the fountain of life and the light by which we see light. As John 1:4 says “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” In John 10 and Rev 7, we see that Christ is the Good Shepherd who leads us to streams of living water. It is by the inheritance of Christ that we have welcomed into the house of God, that we may feast on the abundance of our God. Colossians 3 says our refuge is that our lives have been hidden *in* Christ with God. 2 Corinthians 1:20 says that all the promises of God find their yes in Christ. Brothers and sisters, if we are to meditate on the steadfast love of God, our hearts and minds must be turned to Christ! Do you want to hate the sin in your life? Look to its cost! Christ was crucified and took on the judgement of your sin! Every sin you commit has been answered for by Christ! Do you want to better walk in the abundance of God’s goodness? Look to the empty grave! Where the new life you have been given is assured as Christ rose from the grave, defeating death, and ascended to the right hand of God where he intercedes on your behalf right now. The steadfast love of the Lord, in the work of Christ, is displayed as relentless and eternal. Christ is ours, forevermore!

In these verses, David meditates on the promises of God that are shaped by this relentless and eternal love. He sees the sureness of his hope and calls it precious. A little while ago, I asked you all to consider where your meditations are directed. If you couldn’t quite pick out what it is you tend to meditate on, let me ask in a different way: If someone had a minute by minute breakdown of your daily life, what would they come away thinking you hold as precious? Would they see a person who will do anything to uphold the precious reputation they’ve fought so hard to gain? Would they see someone who takes every spare moment to get back to their precious entertainment? Maybe they would just see how precious the comfort of a consistent routine is for you.

If the thing that is currently holding your deepest affections, the thing that is at the center of all those well-worn trails in your mind, isn’t the steadfast love of the Lord: the thing you hold as precious will fail you. This leads us to our last point.

The Proper Response To These Meditations: Prayer (10-12) This psalm has a couple interesting parallels at its beginning and end. First, we see that first few verses and the last few are both talking about the wicked. But the second parallel is what sets them apart. In the first verse, we see the wicked man communing with sin, but in these last four verses, David communes with God. How beautiful is this?! I spoke earlier about how *all* have been rebellious enemies of God. David, as well as every saint throughout time has gone from the one who speaks with sin in the recesses of his heart to being one who speaks with God! One of the beautiful foundational statements of the Bible is that God speaks to us, and one of the foundational statements of the Psalter is that we may speak with God! And what else could we do? Looking at the depths of human wickedness and the abundances of God’s character, we recognize the absolute neediness of our situation. We along with David and Peter are left with the only reasonable conclusion “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” The difference between David being upright and the wicked lying fallen, unable to rise, is not that David has been able to craftily avoid the pitfalls of the wicked

heart. If he could have done so, the wicked in these verses wouldn’t be unable to rise from the weight of their pride. The difference is that David, seeing the proclivities of his heart, says “Lord, sustain me! Continue your steadfast love and righteousness to me because if You were to remove them from me for one moment, I would be crushed alongside the wicked because that is who I am apart from Your steadfast love and faithfulness!”

As we come to our close today, we are about to take the Lrd’s Supper. I would encourage you to take that time of silence to meditate on the same truths as David. Behold the steadfast love our God has shown in Christ. On the Day of Judgement, all sin will be accounted for. Christian, the Lord’s supper preaches to us each week that the price of our sin against a Holy God is steep, but on that day, we will stand counted as righteous by the work, body, and blood of Christ. How steadfast the love of our God is to take on the form of a servant for our sake. To live obediently and suffer for our sake. To die for our sake.

To the unbeliever here, this is a chance for you to meditate as well. Your sin against a Holy God has a high cost. It will be accounted for not on the basis of the standard that you hold yourself to or society holds you to. Your sin is and will be defined by the measure of a perfectly Righteous God. But salvation has been offered! You have been invited into the abundance of God’s steadfast love. Listen to the words of Christ: “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live” and He also says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”


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