As we look at Psalm 34, it may seem that we are getting ripped off. Right here it says, "Those who fear the Lord lack no good thing." I don't know about you, but there are a lot of good things out there that I do not have. It sure seems like I am entitled to them, according to Psalm 34.
If we go the way of health and wealth religion, we would say that God owes us everything good in life. Any sorrow or pain would be evidence of weak faith. But we know that is not true. Yet here in Psalm 34, are we not promised every good thing?
Now and then we may have a conversation with God that goes something like this: "God, I've been pretty faithful. I've gone to Church, even on Wednesday! I still slip up now and then, but it's minor stuff. God, I wonder if you could send some good stuff my way. Nothing huge - I am not asking for a million dollars. But it seems to me that I am entitled to a little something. After all, You've got to admit that You've been hard on me lately. Maybe You could just ease up on me a little, okay God?"
We naturally expect that God should reward us when we are good. Sometimes that seems true. But sometimes, it seems that the opposite is true.
Yet it still says here, "Those who fear the Lord will lack no good thing." Shouldn't God give us everything good?
I need to point out two things here: First, we do not fear the Lord as we should. Second, we do not even know the difference between a good thing and a bad thing.
When we think about the fear of the Lord, it does not sound too hard. But how exactly do we learn this fear of God?
Right here in Psalm 34, David says, "I will teach you to fear the Lord. ... Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. Depart from evil and do good. Seek peace and pursue it."
If we are honest, we see that we do not guard our tongue from evil, but often let our lips slip out of control. Sometimes, we tell a lie to avoid an uncomfortable situation.
If we are honest, we see that we do not seek peace, but seek to defend ourselves, even if we must hurt others. Doctor Luther said, "In this life there is no end of pursuing [peace], since here no one grasps it."
In the final analysis, we do not turn from evil and do good. We sin much daily, each one of us.
These things that we fail at are supposed to bring us life and good days. Since we do not do those things, that means that we should expect days of trouble and pain, culminating in death.
The fear of the Lord means realizing that we are sinners who do not deserve life and happiness. The fear of the Lord means seeing that God does reward goodness, but we are not good.
We do not fear the Lord as we should. We cannot even fully grasp that we deserve God's wrath, not unless He reveals our guilt in His Word. We keep going back to the false perspective that we are basically good and that God owes us something. Well, He does owe us something. He owes us condemnation and rejection and destruction, because that is what our corrupt nature and deeds earn for us.
Even when God gives us something good, undeserving as we are, we might not even recognize it. Our perceptions are so messed up that we might not know a good thing if it fell into our lap.
Our senses are so deadened by sin that we often want things that please our selfish desires or our greed or our self-centeredness, even when we think that we are being unselfish and kindhearted.
But God is so gracious that even though we deserve nothing but punishment, He gives us a steady stream of blessings, so rich and varied that we should be constantly reminded of His love and amazed by His kindness. Sometimes, we are. But our sinful blindness often makes us see misery and pain where there is actually blessing. If we had perfect faith, we would trust the goodness of God in spite of our troubles.
Too often we bitterly complain. Too often, we ask God for more, more, more, as if we were spoiled brats demanding all the stuff we think we deserve.
During this Lenten season, let us cast our eyes to the dust. Let us abandon any pretense of our own worthiness or merit. Let us repent of our evil.
For the Lord shows us His mercy. His mercy is this, that He does not look to your righteousness when He decides what you deserve. Instead, He looks to Christ. That is the hidden secret of Psalm 34 - that Christ is the fulfillment of righteousness.
Christ kept His tongue from evil, even when His disciples were so annoying and the Pharisees so self-righteous. Christ controlled His lips and spoke only perfect words.
Christ pursued peace at any cost. When He had the chance to end the warfare between humanity and God, Jesus did not count the cost to Himself, but instead laid His flesh down in death, even death on a cross.
Christ accepted trouble for Himself when He could have avoided it. He accepted the pain and suffering the Father placed on His shoulders. So He took the true punishment that you deserve. On the Cross He suffered all the torment you should have received. He took away from you the pain and rejection and damnation. He took away your guilt, and He has made you perfectly innocent in God's judgment.
Psalm 34 is about Christ. He is the one who properly fears God. Christ alone is perfectly holy and good. He alone has not been corrupted by sin. He alone is the trustworthy and sure Foundation upon which your salvation is built. You can always be certain of Christ. You can always know that you are completely safe in the Savior's hands.
Now, every good gift is yours because of Christ. In this lifetime, the goodness of God is hidden beneath suffering and trouble. Yet the goodness is there. In the next life, the goodness Christ delivers will be visible and clear, when the last illusions of sin are stripped away. You have this hope to cling to because of Christ: that this veil of tears will be replaced one day by perfect bliss and eternal joy.
Even in this life, Christ has called you by a name that gives greater honor to you than you can fully grasp. He calls you "His saints". So you are, first of all, "His". He has claimed you as His own because He paid the full price to buy you back. He is not ashamed of you because of your sins because He has destroyed those sins on the Cross. So you are also called "saint", a person who is holy, sacred, and set apart as God's own cherished possession. Even though your actions still stink with sin, through Christ you are as perfect as the glorious holiness of God Himself.
Amazing grace indeed, that such terrible sinners as you and me are given the greatest honor and the greatest reward.
God continue to preserve you in faith to believe this incredible grace that defies all human understanding. Amen.
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