A Fork in the Road
June 3, 2011
Updated July 1, 2021
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This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Psalms 1:1-6
Dear People of God,
Have any of you ever read one of the books from the children’s series, “Choose Your Own Adventure”? Each of the books tells a different story and in each book the reader has a part in determining the outcome of the book by answering questions along the way. Let me give you an example from online: “You’re sitting at home minding your own business when there’s a knock on the door. What will you do? Answer it or hide in the bathroom?” Let’s say that you choose to hide in the bathroom. “As you run for the bathroom, you remember you don’t have one and the knocking gets louder. Will you answer the door or run out the backdoor?” Let’s pretend that you choose to run out the back door. “Oh no, there are leopards in the backyard. Lots of them. Will you sing them to sleep with a song or charge them?” You choose to sing to them. “Only knowing 2 songs, which song will you choose: My bonnie lies over the ocean or the eye of the tiger?” And so the story goes. These books constantly throw two choices in your way. They keep asking, “Which path will you take? Which road will you follow?” The choices you make along the way determine how the book concludes.
That is a life principle, isn’t it? Choices have consequences. It is a spiritual life principle too. It is the lesson that’s taught in Psalm 1. Psalm 1 opens the book of Psalms asking us a question: “Which path will you follow? Will you follow the Psalms and the rest of the Bible? Will you follow the Lord and His Word and live in fellowship with Him?” Or “Will you walk on the other path that leads to devastation and destruction? It’s the path walking in the way of sinners.” Which path will you choose?
THE WAY OF LIFE AND BLESSING
This psalm starts by describing this first way. Blessing here does not have a North American, Western definition. Blessing here does not mean a house, three stall garage, vacation trips to Disney, 2 ½ kids, and sports leagues on the weekend. When this psalm talks about blessing it’s using a Biblical definition. It means wholeness, harmony, joy, and peace with God and others. It’s something much deeper.
First, the way of life and blessing is described negatively. The blessed man does not walk, sit, or stand with the wicked. The passage says in verse 1, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” The path and lifestyle of the blessed man is not with those who are distant from God. The way of the wicked is tempting and alluring. It’s appealing. It’s a way of pleasure and sometimes acceptance with others. But the blessed man does not order his life by this way. He also does not stand in the way of sinners. Standing means something different than walking. To walk is to keep moving but to stand is to park yourself in a path. It’s to stop and engage. The blessed man does not get comfortable in the sinner’s way. Then, he also does not sit in the seat of mockers. To sit means to make yourself fully at home with a lifestyle. The blessed man avoids this. He will not follow the progression into sin. He resists even the first step. He doesn’t want the devil to get even a foot hold in his life.
Positively, “He delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.” (vs.2) He finds joy in God’s law. He knows God’s law has answers for life--for marriage, for work, for speech, for raising children, for worry, for anger, for how to handle temptation. He delights in the law and meditates on it. He reflects on it and mulls God’s Word over in his mind. He memorizes it. He keeps thinking about it until it sinks into his heart and becomes part of him.
Think about meditating as trying to learn a computer software program. You can read the manual and it will explain how to do certain applications. But unless you read the manual and begin to practice doing what it says on your computer, you’ll forget it and it won’t be useful. You need to practice. You need to reflect and rethink about what you’re reading. The blessed man does this with God’s law and Word. How can you meditate on God’s Word? Ask yourself these questions as you read: What’s this passage saying about God? What is it saying about Jesus? What is it saying about me? What is it saying about how I should live?
All of these descriptions of the blessed man lead to this picture: “He is like a tree planted by streams of living water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not whither. Whatever he does prospers.” (vs.3) The image is one of flourishing life. The blessed man is like a well watered tree. He bears regular fruit. He has leaves that are green and fresh. Whatever he does prospers.
If we could picture in our minds an orchard that is loaded with fruit--apples, peaches, cherries, or pears--that’s what the blessed man is like. He bears fruit for God. It is the Spirit’s fruit. He bears love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control. Do you know someone like that? Their lives are attractive and fruitful.
We must be clear. Psalm 1 is not a recipe to a recession proof retirement package or a cancer and cholesterol free life. The prosperity described in Psalm 1 is not a health and wealth gospel. Believers can expect hardship. We only have to read the rest of the Psalms to know that Christians suffer. Take Psalm 3:1 as an example. “O Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” There is trouble in the Christian life but the Psalms also point out that there is deep blessing and prosperity. Psalm 23, for instance, promises that when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death we don’t have to fear because the Lord is with us. When the Lord is our shepherd, God promises that we will lack nothing. The law of the Lord makes us wise. There is the blessing of unity with brothers and sisters in Christ. Those blessings are the kind of prosperity described in Psalm 1.
Wouldn’t you like to have a life like this? Isn’t this how you’d like your life to be defined?
THE WAY OF THE WICKED
There is a second way of life described in this Psalm and it’s completely opposite from the first. If the first path in living is a way of life and blessing for those who delight in God’s Word and walk with Him, this second path is a way of wicked living. The gap between the third and fourth verses of the Psalm describe the contrast between these two ways of life. Verses 3 and 4 say that whatever the blessed man does prospers. But, “not so the wicked.” It’s an abrupt and blunt statement, isn’t it?! There’s nothing nice about it. It’s definitive and straightforward. Those who follow the path of the wicked will not prosper.
While those who walk in God’s way are like a fresh, luscious, vibrant, and fruit bearing tree, the wicked are like chaff. Chaff is the leftover part of the grain. It’s the stalk, the skin of the kernel. It’s all the stuff that’s part of the kernel that you don’t eat. It’s the throw away part of grain.
How does the chaff get separated from the kernel of grain? In Biblical times you threw the chaff and grain up into the air. You would take your basket, or towel, or blanket full of grain and stalks the toss it up to the sky. Because the grain is heaviest, it would fall to the ground. The heaviest straw would be blown by the wind and fall to the outside of the floor. The chaff--the very small pieces of straw--were so light, they would blow away completely. The grain would then be collected and the chaff blown away with the wind. This Psalm says that’s what the wicked are like. They will blow away with the wind.
That’s what the concluding verse regarding the path of the wicked says. Verse 5-“Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.” The wicked cannot stand in the judgment nor will they stand up under God’s judgment. Jesus taught in Matthew 13 that judgment day is like a harvest. The chaff will be blown away by the wind. The wicked will be dismissed. Jesus will say, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” They will have no place in the assembly of God’s saved people.
A PARTING OF THE WAYS
Finally, all of this leads us to see that there is a parting of the ways. This Psalm teaches us that there is an ultimate distinction in life. There are only two ways to live. There are not three ways. There’s not a fourth way. We either are living on one path or the other. The summary statement of the entire psalm spells this out. “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (v.6) That’s all there is. There’s a finality in that statement, isn’t there? These are the two ends of life. There’s no “but” at the end of the verse. The Psalm doesn’t end saying, “The way of the wicked will perish, but….” The Psalm ends with a period, not a comma. This verse is written like the final chapter of a book. This is where these two paths in life will end up.
The important question that this psalm asks is, “Which path will we walk on?” It’s a picture that Jesus picked up in the gospels. He taught in Matthew 7, during the Sermon on the Mount, that there are only two kinds of builders in life and only two kinds of trees bearing fruit--either good trees or bad trees. But He also taught that there are only two gates and ways to live on in life. He said, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 6:13,14) Jesus is asking just as this psalm asks, “Which path will we choose?”
Perhaps you’re hearing this message and you are not yet a Christian. Perhaps you hear God tugging at your heart and challenging you to stop walking on a path that is distant from God. Perhaps you’re feeling God drawing you today toward this more fruitful and abundant life that comes from running from sin and delighting in what God says. How can you have this life? The answer is to trust Jesus. You need a Savior who can save you from your sins and set you free to respond with obedience to God. Jesus is that Savior.
This is even more of a challenge for those who already know God. Which path will you walk on? Will you walk closely to God, in fellowship with Him, according to His Word or will choose the path of sin? This is not a one time choice. It is a daily, hourly, even minute by minute decision. We have to repeatedly say “no” to sin. Maybe even as you’ve listened to this sermon, there are thoughts, looks, or words you’ve been tempted to engage in or express that you know are wrong. Jesus by his Word is calling you to live for God and not for sin or yourself.
Let us make sure we’re clear. This is not a call to find blessing on your own. Jesus set the choice of the two ways in the context of the gospel. Jesus is the way. He is the preacher of the Sermon on the Mount, who has given us a law to live by as members of His kingdom. The choice of two paths that Psalm 1 sets before us is also given in the context of the gospel. This Psalm begins the Psalter. This is a covenantal book. This is a book not by which we become the people of God through obedience, but this is a book written for people who already are the people of God.
Besides, which of us always avoids the counsel of the wicked? Which of us fully delights in the law of the Lord and keeps that law? Which of us meditates on God’s law and does so day and night? We don’t do these things. We can’t do these things. We need a Savior who can and did. That Savior is Jesus. We are blessed only for one reason and that is because Jesus lived the life we could never live and he paid sin’s price at the cross--a price we could never pay. Jesus is the righteous man of Psalm 1. He never walked, stood, or sat with sinners. Oh yes, He sat and ate with them but He never compromised or sold out to their sin. His delight was always in God’s law. Obedience to the Father was His highest priority and He never failed. And He prospered. He grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but He made Himself nothing and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name. (Philippians 2:6-9) Jesus was lifted high as He submitted Himself to the Father.
How can you be the blessed man or woman of Psalm1? By relying and trusting in Jesus. Let Him be your righteousness. Make Him your hope. May He be your joy and delight. May your response to God’s saving power in Jesus be that you do not walk in the ways of the wicked but instead delight in God’s law.
As we close, perhaps this song says it best: “When we walk with the Lord, in the light of his Word, what a glory He sheds on our way. While we do his good will, He abides with us still and with all who will trust and obey. Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
Order of Worship
Welcome and Announcements
Call to Worship: Psalm 26:8
Opening Song: “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” PsH #486
God’s greeting: “Grace, mercy, and peace be unto us from God our Father, from Jesus Christ the Son, and from the Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Songs of Praise:
“Lord, our Lord Your Glorious Name” PsH #8
“I Will Sing of the Mercies of the Lord” PsH #169
God’s Will for our Lives: Exodus 20: 1-17
Song: “How Blest are They Who, Fearing God” PsH #1
Scripture Reading: Psalm 1
Sermon: “A Fork in the Road”
Prayer of Application: “Oh God, may we trust in Jesus to save. May our response to His saving power be a life of gratitude, joy, and obedience in Christ. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Song: “When we walk with the Lord” PsH #548
Benediction: “Now may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit abide with us. Amen.”
Doxology: “Praise God, from Whom All Blessings Flow” PsH #638
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