Psalm 1
The Blessed Man

A sermon by Bill Baldwin - May 26, 2002 (rev. Sept 10, 2004)

It is natural to read or hear this Psalm and to think of ourselves. Here, we suppose, is a description of how God will reward us if we do good and punish us if we sin. God is offering us a deal. Do right and you will be blessed; sin and suffer the consequences. Seeking to be blessed, we steel ourselves for the task ahead. We will not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. We will not stand in the path of sinners. We will not sit in the seat of the scornful. Rather we shall meditate upon the Law of God, day and night. Then God will bless us. Then we shall prosper.

It is natural to look at this Psalm in this way. And it is totally wrong. It is natural to look at this Psalm in this way. And it is totally wrong.

If we do not understand this first of Psalms, how then will we understand all the rest? Let us test our theory. Let us consider Psalm 1 as though it is written to, for, and about us directly. Let us see what kind of trouble that gets us into. Because, make no mistake…

If this Psalm is about you, you’re in trouble.

"Blessed is the man," the Psalm begins. "Blessed is the man." What follows, then, must be God’s formula for blessing. How may you or I become that blessed man? What must we do?

The answer is simple. The answer is profound. And the answer is all-encompassing. The blessing of God is first made contingent on what a man does not do, on the counsel he avoids, and the company on which he turns his back. "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers."

Do you wish to be blessed of God? Then do not take advice from those who are ungodly. Do not call good what they call good, and do not receive as wisdom what they offer as wisdom. Do not take your place among sinners, or you will surely become identified with them. Do not sit in their midst as one who, like them, mocks the ways of God and scoffs at the idea that God will one day come in judgment. Avoid all such things, if you wish to be blessed.

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers."

You hear as well the momentum in this description. First we speak of walking, then of standing, then of sitting down. It goes from activity to inactivity to capitulation or giving up. As we become more tangled up in sin, we struggle against it less and less. And at last we give up the battle entirely and take our seat among those who mock the ways of God and love wickedness. We become indistinguishable from then.

But if we would receive the blessing of God, we cannot be dragged down by this spiral into apostasy and sin! We must stand firm against it all. Though the whole world should be sinful, yet we will stand against them and be righteous! Though all should mock the Lord our God, yet we will be faithful and true.

If we are unclear about just how faithful we must be, other psalms will teach us. Psalm 106:3 says, "Blessed are those who keep justice, and he who does righteousness at all times!" And Psalm 119:1 says, "Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law of the Lord!"

Are you up to the task? Are you able to be blameless and to do righteousness at all times. Then by your unceasing vigilance and manifest perfection you will earn the favor of God and merit heavenly rewards. Then you will be the blessed man spoken of in this psalm.

Or are you exhausted, overwhelmed, weighed down, and despondent when you think of how much is required to be acceptable in God’s sight? You realize that you yourself have taken the advice of the wicked. You yourself have stood among sinners, indistinguishable from them. You yourself have taken your seat among those who behave as though this world is all that matters and judgment day will never come and your secret sins will never be discovered. Or, to put it more briefly, you yourself have sat in the seat of the scornful.

If this Psalm is about you, you’re in trouble

What then is to be done? Patience! Let’s make the problem worse before we make it better. Let us expose still further the trouble we are in. We have heard what the blessed man must avoid. Now let us hear what he must do.

"But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in his Law he meditates day and night." It sounds like a simple enough task at first, but consider!

The Law of which the psalmist speaks is the same Law that God gave on Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. Around that mountain there was thunder and lightning, which spoke of the wrath of God against sin. And God decreed that any man who so much as touched the mountain should be stoned to death, and even if an animal touched the mountain it should be killed.

"When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, ‘You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die’" (Exodus 20:18,19).

How can we delight in such a terrifying Law? Surely the Law speaks of great blessing to those who keep it. But it also speaks of the terrible wrath of God against those who break it. That wrath was symbolized by thunder and lightning and smoke and the fear of death. And ultimately the wrath that comes to lawbreakers is the torment of hell itself.

How can we delight in such a terrifying Law? Are we better than the Israelites who first heard it and trembled with fear? They heard the Law but they disobeyed it, and so they wandered in the desert 40 years outside the Promised Land. They died outside the place that was "watered like the garden of God," the Bible says. They died outside the place of God’s blessing, the land flowing with milk and honey. They died outside of the place of God’s presence where God would dwell with his people for ever. That Promised Land was a picture of heaven itself. And they disobeyed God and died outside it. Are we better than they?

Do we not read that even Moses himself displeased God and so died without ever setting foot in the Promised Land? Are we better than Moses?

But the next generation entered that land. Led by Joshua, they went in and conquered, delighting in the Law of God. Perhaps we may be like them. The Lord exhorted Joshua and the people, "This book of the Law shall not depart out of your mouth. But you shall meditate on it day and night. Then you will make your way prosperous. Then you will have good success." It was a marvelous and beautiful offer, quite similar to the psalm we read today. The children of Israel had a formula for prosperity—endless delight in and meditation on the Law of God.

But the Bible tells us that they also sinned. They also stopped delighting in the Law of God. Moses even predicted it at the end of Deuteronomy. He said to the people, "For I know that after my death you will surely act corruptly, turning aside from the way that I have commanded you. In time to come trouble will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands" (Deuteronomy 31:29).

And the people fulfilled Moses’ grim prediction. After the death of Joshua they turned and served other gods. Are we better than they?

And Joshua himself, before he died, sinned against the Lord by making a treaty with the Gibeonites. He also failed to delight in the Law of the Lord and meditate in it day and night. Are we better than he?

So it went, on throughout the ages of the children of Israel. The Law given on Mount Sinai was a burden and a yoke that neither the first generation nor their children were able to bear. No one … NO ONE … in the whole history of Israel in the Old Testament proved able to delight fully in this terrible, threatening Law and to meditate on its precepts day and night.

But if that is so, and we are no better than they, then are the blessings of this psalm forever denied to us? If it is up to us to earn these blessings through our own good works and delight in the Law, then we cannot hope to see such blessings at all. Rather, we must have the grim expectation that the curses of this psalm are about to fall upon us.

If this Psalm is about you, you’re in trouble

We have not avoided the sins described in this song. Neither have we been able to delight in God’s Law and take from it any strength for righteousness. Rather, we have heard God’s Law and it has awakened sin in us! "What shall we say then?" Paul asks in Romans 7. "Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire" (Romans 7:7,8).

Miserable creatures that we are if this psalm is about us! We will not be like a tree planted by rivers of water. How wonderful that would be! You understand the picture that is being painted here. In the Mid-East, in Israel, the trees depend upon the rain which may come or not. If it comes, they flourish. If God withholds the rain, they wither and die. But a tree planted by a stream will not wither and die. With a constant supply of water it will bear fruit and be strong and healthy. In the same way, the righteous man will prosper before God and will have no fear.

But if we have sinned against God, how can that verse describe us? We must rather believe that we will be like the chaff that the wind drives away. When the farmers of Israel harvested the wheat, they had to separate the kernel—the good part of the wheat—from the chaff, which couldn’t be eaten. So they crushed the wheat on large blankets. That way they got a blanket  with a bunch of wheat and chaff mixed together. How did they separate the two? They grabbed the blankets and tossed the whole mixture up in the air. The kernels of wheat, which were heavy, fell back onto the blanket. The chaff, which was light, got blown away by the wind. The useless chaff was driven away by the wind, never to be seen again.

That’s what we are like if we don’t walk in God’s ways and meditate on his Law. We will not be able to stand before God on the day of his judgment. He will drive us away like so much chaff. Our ways will not be acceptable before him. Only the righteous will remain in his presence in that day.

If this Psalm is about you, you’re in trouble

Wretched people that we are! Who will deliver us from this body of death?

For you who cry out this question, I have good news. This psalm isn’t about you. It’s about Christ.

This Psalm isn’t about you; it’s about Christ.

Christ is the blessed man. Do you see it? Do you see how perfectly this psalm describes your Savior and your Lord? Christ is the blessed man.

In Christ we have a man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Not once. In Christ we have a man who did not stand in the way of sinners. Not once. In Christ we have a man who did not sit in the seat of scoffers. Not once.

Instead, the Lord Jesus delighted in the Law of the Lord. The Law did not terrify him, for he had no sin for the Law to condemn. The Law did not awaken his sinfulness, for he had no sinfulness for it to awaken. He alone had clean hands and a pure heart. He alone could ascend the mountain of God and be in the presence of the Almighty without being consumed.

Christ Jesus meditated in the Law day and night. And he knew that it spoke of him. The book of Hebrews tell us the psalmist speaks of Christ when he says the following, "Then I said, ‘Lo, I come; in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God; your Law is within my heart" (Ps 40:7,8). Those are the words of your Redeemer! "I delight to do your will, O my God; your Law is within my heart!"

Christ, then, is the one who alone has merited the blessings spoken of in verse 3. He alone earned the right to be like a tree planted by streams of water, yielding fruit, without withering leaves. He alone had a right to prosper.

This Psalm isn’t about you; it’s about Christ.

And yet we read that Jesus was handed over to the chief priests and scribes. He was judged by sinners, both Jew and Gentile. He was delivered up to Pontius Pilate who condemned him to death, even though Pilate himself testified "I find no fault in this man."

Does this sound like the prosperity and blessing that we have heard about?

Dare we say it? Christ is the cursed man spoken of in this psalm! He suffered in agony on the cross. He became like so much chaff that the wind drives away. On the cross he underwent the judgment and the wrath of God, with thunderings and clouds and thick darkness. And he died. He died like a wicked man whose way has perished.

This Psalm isn’t about you; it’s about Christ.

We see now that the curses of this psalm speak of Christ, even though Christ himself did all the things that merit blessing. But then can we say that the whole psalm applies to Christ? Or must we say that even though he earned the blessings of this psalm, he received only the curses instead?

No! Christ is not only the cursed man, he is the blessed man as well. Christ is for a time the cursed man, but he is the blessed man at last! Though he suffered the judgment and wrath of God, though he died a cursed death and was buried… yet he rose again on the third day!

He passed through the judgment of God and was raised to eternal life. Now he is alive forever; death and judgment are behind him. God has declared him to be righteous by raising him from the dead. God has approved his way. God has appointed him as the one who will stand in the day of judgment, judging all mankind.

Therefore he is like a tree planted by streams of water that brings forth fruit in season, whose leaf does not wither. Everything he did has prospered and everything he does will prosper.

Truly and triumphantly does this psalm speak of our Lord Jesus Christ.

But what then does this have to do with you and me? It is time to unveil the best news of all.

This psalm IS about you, and you’re not in trouble.

Can it be? Didn’t we just finish saying that this psalm isn’t about you but about Christ? And before that, didn’t we say that if this psalm is about you, then you’re in trouble? And we proved that statement with terrifying examples from Scripture. How then do we dare now to say that this psalm is about you after all, and you are not in trouble?

We dare to make this claim because this psalm is not about you as you are in yourself. This psalm is not about you, naked and defenseless before the wrath of God, a sinner justly deserving his wrath. This psalm is about you who hope in Christ. This psalm is about you who are in Christ, as Paul often tells us we are. This psalm is about you because it is about Christ. Christ gives this Psalm freely to you, and to everyone who trusts in him. For I am speaking to you who trust in Christ. If you have not yet trusted in him, trust in him now. Do not face this psalm alone or the curse of God will consume you.

But if you trust in Christ, he has given this psalm to you by becoming the cursed man in your place. We mentioned how even the curses of this psalm speak of Christ. Christ himself was like the chaff driven away by the win. Christ on the cross is like the wicked man suffering under the judgment of God. But why did he do this? Why did he take on this suffering character? Why did he bear the wrath of God?

For you he has done this! Christ did not deserve the awful torments of the cross. Christ did not merit the reward of the wicked. You are the one who deserved those punishments. But he has taken your sins on himself. The wrath of God that you had earned has been borne by Christ in your place. The judgment of God that should have come down on you has landed on his head. The death you deserved is the death he died. And now it is done.

Your sins are paid for. You are free. No longer can this psalm terrify you with warnings of judgment and descriptions of the horrors that await the wicked. Those terrible verses still speak of you. But they speak of you in the past tense. In Christ, you have already been like the chaff that the wind drives away. In Christ you have already been like the wicked who cannot withstand God’s judgment. In Christ at the cross, your judgment day has come already. In Christ your foul, despicable, sinful ways have perished! At the cross, your sins have been put to death and you have died to sin.

This psalm IS about you, and you’re not in trouble.

Not only do the judgment parts of this psalm belong to you, as those who have passed through death; the blessing parts of this psalm belong to you as well, as those who have passed into life eternal.

God made Christ, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.

Everything that Christ is and everything he has done belongs to you. He has taken you with him on this journey from death into life. As surely as your sins were placed on him at the cross, so surely is his righteousness given to you at his resurrection.

On that day of resurrection, God the Father declared his Son Jesus to be a righteous man, a man who merited prosperity and blessing and reward. You are united to him by faith, so that prosperity and blessing and reward belong to you as well. Those treasures are kept safe in heaven for you, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness," our Lord declares in the Sermon on the Mount. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." It is not those who have righteousness who will be satisfied, but those who lack it and know they lack it. They hear this first Psalm and they cry out, "But I have no righteousness to offer God! And, oh how desperately I need it!"

They hunger for the sort of righteousness that God approves. They are empty of it and need to be filled. They thirst for this righteousness that is acceptable in God’s sight. They know that without it they shall wither and die.

To them, Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).  To them—to us who hunger and thirst for righteousness that we may be approved by God—Jesus says, "whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."

Truly in Christ, the prophecy of Isaiah is abundantly filled, "Ho! Everyone who thirsts,/ Come to the waters;/ And you who have no money,/ Come, buy and eat./ Yes, come, buy wine and milk/ Without money and without price."

And so we say with the apostle Paul, I count all things loss "that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own, based on the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Php 3:8b,9).

The righteousness of Christ is now your clothing so that you do not stand naked and ashamed before God. The Lord knows the way of the righteous and you are righteous in Christ. Therefore God knows your ways and approves of them. For the ways of Christ belong to you that you may not appear before God empty-handed.

Now it is those who trust in Christ who will be like that tree. The prophet Jeremiah said as much as he waited for the day of Christ to come. Listen to what Jeremiah said: "Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out is roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit."

Do you hear that. Good news for sinners like us! Good news for people like us who are unable to do any good thing or merit any blessing. Now blessing is offered freely to those who trust in Christ, to those who confess that they can do nothing and rely on Christ to do it all. As we do this, we ourselves shall be like the tree described in Psalm 1. We ourselves shall be like Christ our Lord.

This psalm IS about you, and you’re not in trouble.

Believe this, brothers and sisters, even though you suffer in this present life. Believe this, even though you should experience hardship or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword. Believe this blessing is yours in Christ even when – especially when – you feel as though you are withering and becoming like the chaff that the wind drives away.

For all such things conform you to the sufferings of Christ, who suffered before you. Therefore, as surely as you belong to Christ, so surely will you suffer with him. And as surely as you suffer with him, so surely will you be glorified with him. For he has already received the reward of the blessed man. He keeps that reward safe in heaven for you. And even now in the midst of your sufferings, he gives you a taste of that reward which you receive by faith. The blessing of God is therefore yours already and will be revealed in the last day.

This psalm IS about you, and you’re not in trouble.

But shall we say that all these things are true of us, even though we continue to walk in the counsel of the wicked and stand in the way of sinners and sit in the way of scoffers? God has prepared something better for us. He not only gives us the righteousness of Christ as a gift; he promises to conform us to that righteousness by more and more turning us from our sins and making us like Jesus.

God the Father will prosper the way of Christ so that Christ continues to be like a tree that bears fruit. He is the vine, we are the branches. Let us abide in him and we will bear much fruit, for he will be the one bearing fruit through us. Cling to Christ; trust in him alone! Do not look to your own strength or your own merits or your own abilities in any way. Christ alone is strong. Christ alone is able. Christ alone is worthy. Entrust yourself wholly to him and you will walk in his ways.

Come, walk in obedience to Christ. But do not do this because you fear the threats of this Psalm. Those threats are in the past tense for you. You have passed through them already in Christ. And do not walk in obedience because you hope by that obedience to gain the blessings of this psalm. Christ has already gained the blessings of this psalm on your behalf. Every single one of them!

Come, walk in obedience because you love Christ and long to be like him.

Come even dare to delight in the Law. The Law has been defanged in Christ. It is no longer terrifying to you, for it’s terrors have already been borne on your behalf at the cross. Now the Law speaks of Christ, of his beautiful righteousness, of his perfect compassion, and awesome holiness—and all those things belong to you. Come to the Law and let the Law bring you to Christ who has fulfilled the Law. Let Christ be your meditation day and night, for in him the righteousness and wisdom and glory of God are perfectly and finally revealed.

Do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, for Christ has become for you wisdom from God and heavenly counsel. Do not stand in the path of sinners, for Christ is your righteousness and calls you to walk in that righteousness. And do not sit in the seat of scoffers, for Christ has taken his seat at the right hand of God in heavenly places. From there he calls you out of this world to set your minds and hearts on the things that are above.

And this is no dead revelation which can only summon you to obedience. Christ is the living revelation of the righteousness and wisdom and glory of God. He not only calls you to obedience, he empowers you for it.

These are not empty words, brothers and sisters! We have died to sin and been made alive to righteousness. Believe it! And therefore turn your backs on sin. It no longer has any power over you. And therefore offer yourselves up as servants of righteousness in Christ.

Love one another, for Christ has loved you. Serve one another for Christ has served you. Be generous with one another, for Christ has been generous to you. He has put his Spirit in you—a Spirit of love, of service, and of generosity. He has put the power of obedience in you, which is this gospel which we now preach. He has brought in a new creation and you have been made new creatures in Christ, created for good works. And God himself has prepared those works for you that you may walk in them.

Here then is the power of your new obedience. I will close by reading this psalm to you in a way that makes that clear. For the psalmist looked forward to Christ, and now he has come! The psalmist spoke of what Christ would do, and now he has done it! Listen to how the psalm sounds now, to you who hope in Christ:

1    Blessed is the Man
    Who did not walk in the counsel of the ungodly,
    Nor did he stand in the path of sinners,
    Nor did he sit in the seat of the scornful;
2    But his delight was in the law of the LORD,
    And in His law he meditated day and night.
3    He is like a tree
    Planted by the rivers of water,
    That brings forth its fruit in its season,
    Whose leaf also does not wither;
    And everything he did has prospered.
4    The ungodly are not so,
    But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5    Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
    Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6        For the LORD has accepted the way of Jesus, the righteous man,
    But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Go forth in this strength and sin no more! Amen.

Postscript: Bill Baldwin has written a hymn based on Psalm 1 that brings out some of the insights in the above sermon. Click here to go to that Hymn.


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