This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Psalms 92:1-15
Text: Psalm 92:12-15
Author: Rev Timothy Brown
LIKE A TREE PLANTED IN GOD'S HOUSE
The word "righteous" is not a word that had the nicest ring to it. If someone called you a "righteous person," you might not think it was a compliment. You probably wouldn't mind being called a kind person or a compassionate person. You wouldn't even mind being called a good person. But to be called a righteous person somehow doesn't sound so good. The word "righteous" reminds us of "self-righteous." A self-righteous person is someone who thinks he has made himself righteous on his own. And often he thinks of himself as better than anyone else.
But in the Bible to be righteous doesn't mean that. To be righteous is just the opposite of being wicked. And you can be righteous without being self-righteous. In fact, people in the Bible who are truly righteous are people like Abraham and Elijah and Daniel. These people knew that they had not become righteous by their own efforts. They knew that they owed their righteousness entirely to God's grace.
So in biblical terms it is good to be a righteous person. It is really the same as being a godly person. It is something that all of us should want to be.
Yes, but why would you want to be a righteous person? Are there any advantages to being a righteous person? After all, you have to go to a lot of trouble to be righteous. You have to turn from sin. You have to trust in God. And now that Christ has come, you have to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. And then in God's strength you have to try to live a life that pleases him. So what is the good of that? What is the advantage of a righteous life? The book of Proverbs shows you the advantages of being righteous. And so also does the psalm we just read, Psalm 92. Here God gives us a picture of the righteous person. And along with that picture, he gives us a promise concerning the righteous person.
So let’s look first at the picture and then at the promise.
I. What picture of the righteous does the psalm paint for us?
A. Let's focus on the details of the picture. The psalm says that if you are a righteous person you are like a tree planted in the courts of God's house.
You are like a tree. What kind of tree? Verses 12-13 mention two kinds. One is a palm tree. "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree." The date palm is a graceful, tall tree, with green fronds that remain green year-round. It can grow as tall as 90 feet. You can eat the dates and make a drink from its sap. You can use palm fronds to make mats and baskets. And then the other tree mentioned is a cedar of Lebanon. The cedar is an evergreen. It can reach a height of 120 feet. Cedars are valuable mainly for their wood. An older house I lived in had a cedar closet.
So the righteous person is like a cedar or a palm tree. It is like the popular Christian book, The Purpose Driven Life. On the front cover there is an oak tree. Later, near the end of the book, there is a picture of a fruit tree. And the book quotes various verses that refer to trees. That is no accident. It fits in with this biblical idea that the godly person is like a tree.
But the tree in Psalm 92 is unusual because of its location. It is planted in the temple courts. The temple in Jerusalem was God's house where he lived among his people. And it did have a courtyard area, so trees could have been planted there. Today the Muslim shrine called the Dome of the Rock, stands in Jerusalem where the temple used to be. And there are some trees that grow between Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They are mostly small cypresses, not date palms or cedars. But they are trees.
So, if you are a righteous person, that is the psalm's picture of you. You are like a strong, healthy tree that has been planted in the temple courts.
B. And what are the implications of that picture? Well, there are a number of implications.
1. One is that the righteous are spiritually alive.
A tree is not like a fence-post. It is a living thing. At least, most trees are alive, especially trees that you transplant in the temple courts. You don't transplant dead stumps. You transplant trees that are alive. And in the same way if you are a righteous person, you are alive. You are not just physically alive. You are spiritually alive. God is the source of your life. The New Testament often talks about this. In Ephesians 2:5 Paul says that "because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions."
So one implication of the tree picture is that if you are righteous, you have spiritual life.
2. And then an implication of the fact that the tree is in the temple is that God brings righteous people close to him.
Any tree that grew in the temple courts had to be brought there from somewhere else. It had to be transplanted from another place. And it couldn't transplant itself. Someone had to plant it. And in the same way, if you are a godly person, God has not only made you alive. He has also brought into a close relationship with himself. He has brought you from a distance and transplanted you in his house.
Paul has a similar idea in Ephesians 2:13. He says to non-Jews: "But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ." And in Colossians 1:13 he says that God "has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves." So God has brought you near to him, spiritually. He has planted you in the courts of his house.
3. And then a third implication of this picture is that righteous people are in a place of honor.
In northern Michigan one of the things people do for a living is to grow Christmas trees. A Christian Reformed tree-grower there considered it the high point of his life when he was chosen to supply the National Christmas Tree. He personally went to Washington with the tree.
Today cut trees are no longer used for the National Christmas Tree. Since 1973 a living tree has been used. The current National Christmas Tree is a Colorado blue spruce that was transplanted from York, Pennsylvania, in 1978. If that tree had feelings, I am sure it would be proud to be planted in the nation’s capital as the National Christmas Tree. It would consider it a great honor.
But think how much greater honor it would be for a tree to be planted in the courts of God's temple in Jerusalem. Remember what the temple was. It was God's house on earth. It was the place of his earthly presence among his covenant people. It would be a tremendous honor to be a tree planted there in God's presence.
And if you’re a godly, righteous person, you have that honor. You have been made one with God through Jesus Christ. You have been adopted into God’s family. You have a place of great honor as a tree planted in the courts of the LORD.
4. A fourth implication of this picture for the righteous is that they are in a place of protection.
A tree transplanted in the temple courts would be protected from exposure to violent winds. It would be protected from those who might want to chop it down for firewood or lumber. The temple courts would be just about the safest place in the world for a tree to be.
And the same is true for you if you are one of God's righteous people. If you belong to God in Christ, his eye is always upon you. His love surrounds you. And you are safe from those who would hurt you. They can do you no ultimate harm.
In John 10 Jesus says this about his people: "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand." In Romans 8 Paul likewise says that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So that is the picture. If you are righteous you are like a tree planted in the temple courts. You are like a palm or a cedar of Lebanon. You are spiritually alive. And God in his grace has brought you close to himself. You are in a place of honor. And you are in a place of protection.
II. But now, what promise concerning the righteous does the psalm give? It is a promise that relates to all of life and especially to old age.
A. In verses 12-13 God promises that throughout life the righteous will flourish and grow. "The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; they will flourish in the courts of our God."
Now, of course, it is normal for a tree to grow. It is normal for it get taller and for its trunk to get wider. Maybe some of you are familiar with bonsai. Bonsai are trees that are deliberately kept small. They are not allowed to grow. But of course you have to do all kinds of things to keep bonsai small. They are not like that naturally.
So as a Christian you are not meant to be a spiritual bonsai. No, you are meant to flourish and grow throughout your Christian life. Your faith and your spiritual insight should increase. Your love and compassion for other people should grow richer and deeper. Your hope in God's future should become more intense.
Paul talks about this kind of growth in Ephesians 4. He talks about the church reaching "unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God" and becoming "mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ." He also says, "Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
So if you are righteous, God promises that you will flourish and grow throughout your life.
B. And then, what about in old age?
1. In verse 14 God promises that the righteous will still bear fruit in old age and stay fresh and green.
Now, if a tree is fresh and green, it doesn't matter how old it is. It is still very much alive. The word translated "fresh" here literally means, "fat". Can a tree be fat? No. But here the word means "healthy". And a tree that is healthy will also be green. Why? Because a healthy tree's leaves are full of a chemical called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll absorbs the red and blue wavelengths of light while it reflects the green wavelengths. So it is a bright green. And chlorophyll is responsible for a chemical process called photosynthesis. It takes the energy of sunlight and then uses carbon dioxide and water to make the carbohydrates that keep the tree alive. So a healthy tree is green because of the chlorophyll. If its needles or fronds turn brown or yellow, that means the chlorophyll has broken down and the tree is dying.
And then of course one of the things a healthy, green tree does is to bear fruit even in old age. Date palms that are a hundred years old can still produce dates. And olive trees can grow to be much older and still produce fruit. On average an olive tree will live 300 to 600 years.
So God is saying that if you are righteous, in your old age you will be like a tree that stays fresh and green. You will be healthy spiritually. And you will bear fruit. What kind of fruit? In Colossians 1 Paul talks about "bearing fruit in every good work." And in Galatians 5 he lists the qualities that are "the fruit of the Spirit": "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." So if you are a righteous person God promises that in old age you will be spiritually alive and healthy and will produce spiritual fruit.
Why will you do that? Well, one reason an old tree stays fresh and fruitful because it is getting enough water. And in the same way, you will be fresh and fruitful in old age if you are being watered by God's Word. Psalm 1 talks about the person who meditates on God's Word day and night. It says he or she is "like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither."
So this is a great promise of spiritual health and fruitfulness in your old age.
2. And then God also promises that in their old age righteous people will proclaim the LORD's faithfulness. Verse 15 says they will proclaim, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
So if you are righteous, then when you get old you will praise the LORD who planted you in his courts. You will praise him for protecting you and making you fruitful. You will tell the world that the LORD is upright. In his relationships with you, he does what is right. And you will tell the world that he is your Rock. In other words, the LORD is a solid, dependable Person you can rely on totally. And you will say that there is no wickedness in him. There is no trace of evil in him, no trace of perversity. So you can depend on this God to do what he says. You can depend on him to keep his promises.
If you are righteous, you will proclaim that great is his faithfulness.
So is it worthwhile to be righteous? Yes, indeed. Earlier in Psalm 92 the writer talks about the wicked people. In verse 7 he says, "Though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed." So that is their destiny: to be destroyed. But if you are righteous and godly, you will be like a tree planted in the temple courts.
Do you see this promise being fulfilled in your life? Some of you are older. In your old age, are you continuing to bear fruit? Are you still fresh and green with spiritual life? I know that some of you are. Just because you are old physically, that doesn’t mean you have to shrivel up and die spiritually. No, like Paul you can be "wasting away" outwardly, and yet inwardly you can be "renewed day by day." You may still be living in your own home. You may be in a nursing home, with people taking care of you. But you can still be full of spiritual vitality. And you can be bearing fruit. You can be bearing fruit through the things you say to people-- through kind and encouraging words. You can be bearing fruit through the prayers you pray for missionaries and pastors and your family. Your prayers protect, sustain and empower them.
But what if you are not thriving like a healthy tree? What if you are not fresh or green spiritually? What if there is no fruit? Then, no matter what your age, the problem may be that you have never really been made alive spiritually. You may be like the people Jude writes about: "autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted-- twice dead." So what should you do? Acknowledge that you are a sinner. And then trust in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died for sinners. Seek God's forgiveness and ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life.
If you do that, you will be alive spiritually. And then you will be like a tree planted in the courts of God's house. Throughout your life, you will flourish and grow. And even in old age you will still bear fruit. You will "stay fresh and green, proclaiming, "The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him."
We Are Gathered By God
Call to Worship: Psalm 92:1-2
Pastor: It is good to praise the LORD
People: and make music to your name, O Most High,
Pastor: To proclaim your love in the morning
People: and your faithfulness at night.
Opening Prayer: "Father, we have gathered to praise you and to make music to your name. In this day that you have made, help us to proclaim your love in the morning and your faithfulness at night in the power of your Holy Spirit. Through Christ our Lord, Amen."
Opening Song: #438:1,2,3,5 “When Morning Gilds the Sky”
We Renew Our Fellowship With God
Prayer of Confession
Assurance of Pardon
The Will of God for Our Lives
Hymn of Petition: #86:1,2,3,5 "LORD, My Petition Heed"
We Listen to God’s Word
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture: Psalm 92
Message: LIKE A TREE PLANTED IN GOD’S HOUSE
Prayer of Application
We Respond With Commitment
Song of Dedication: #171 “It Is Good to Sing Your Praises”
Congregational and Offertory Prayer
We Go Out To Serve
Closing Song: #1 "How Blest Are They Who, Fearing God"
Closing Prayer: "Father, as we now go forth in your service, we pray that you will bless us and keep us and make your face to shine upon us. Turn your face toward us and give us peace. In Jesus' name, Amen."
Doxology: #320 "Lord, Dismiss Us with Your Blessing"