The Central Truth of Christianity
The Psalm starts out with what I believe is the most fundamental truth in all Christianity: that God is good. Asaph, the writer of this Psalm, repeats this fundamental claim, and elaborates with another claim that logically follows the first: That God is good to the pure in heart.
In other words, if it is true that God is good, then Asaph is pointing out that it must also be true that it is better to follow Him than to rebel against Him. If God is truly good, then certainly He is good to those who follow Him.
When The Truth Doesn't Seem True
But, in verse 2 Asaph admits that he is having trouble believing that God really is good. When Asaph looks around, it seems that the wicked people have a much more comfortable life than the people who are trying to follow God. Asaph had worked hard to obey God, but when he looked out at the world, it seems that the people who don't care about God have more food than him, more money than him, and more fun than him.
In verse 10 he points out that most people look at the success of the wicked and think they want to join in on the fun. And, starting in verse 13, we see that Asaph is starting to wonder if that's what he should do too. He is getting depressed and it is causing him to wonder, "did I wash my hands in vain," or "is following God really worth it?"
The Moment Everything Changes
Verses 2–16 leave us with a pretty bleak picture. Asaph is depressed and downcast and he is considering walking away from the faith altogether. But in verse 17 something happens that changes everything. In verse 17 Asaph "steps into the sanctuary of God."
Obviously Asaph is using metaphorical language here. Asaph's change has nothing to do with a physical change of location. Instead, his change has everything to do with a spiritual change. In verse 17 Asaph meets God and it changes everything. Once he meets God he realizes that God is indeed good. In fact, God is far better than he ever imagined, and that makes all the difference.
God's Goodness Guarantees that He Will Judge Evil
Once Asaph meets God, he's immediately convinced that God is good. In fact, Asaph is so impacted by God's goodness that we see three distinct changes in him. First, Asaph realizes that because God is good, perfectly good, he can rest assured that God will judge all evil.
In the verses 2–16 Asaph was embittered that God was allowing these wicked people to prosper. Now he realized, that God's goodness means that every wrong will be judged. Wickedness will not get a free pass. All evil will be judged.
God's Goodness Provides Us with an Opportunity to Repent
But, once Asaph realizes that God's goodness means that He will judge all wickedness, Asaph becomes less concerned with the wickedness of others and more concerned with his own. Asaph realized that God's not just pretty good, He's perfectly good. That means that God won't only judge the "big" sins, God will judge all sin. That means, Asaph is one of the wicked.
So Asaph responds with confession. He admits to God that he was wrong to ever question God's goodness. He was wrong to be angry and embittered with God. He was wrong to think everyone else was wicked, but that he was not.
What Asaph didn't yet fully understand is how God would reconcile these two aspects of His goodness. How can God fully judge evil and still show grace? What benefit is there to repentance if God's goodness requires that justice be served?
God answers those questions for us in the cross of Jesus Christ. In the cross of Christ, God fully punishes sin, exacting the full weight of the death penalty we deserve. Simultaneously, by offering his own Son, the one who knew no sin, God offers us the opportunity to find our death in Him. Jesus acts as a substitute for all those who repent so that God can be both just and the justifier (Romans 3:26). Jesus death means that God can be perfectly good, and judge all sin, and still be perfectly good and offer salvation to all who will repent.
Not Only is God Good, God is the Good
Of all of Asaph's changes, I believe he saves the most exciting for last. Asaph starts by pointing out that the goodness of God means that there are consequences for sin, so he commits to following God to avoid those consequences. But in this third aspect of God's goodness, Asaph realizes that knowing God is its own great reward. Asaph follows God, not merely to avoid the negatives, but to pursue the one great positive.
In the first 16 verses, Asaph looked at the fun that the wicked people were having and he was jealous. But when he meets God, all that fun looses its appeal. The wicked found their own little rewards, but Asaph has found a much better reward. There is no more room for envy. Asaph has finally found the only thing that can ever make him happy. All the other little joys seem insignificant in comparison.
When Asaph considers the joys of knowing God, he reflects,
Who do I have in heaven but You?How to Respond to the Goodness of God
And I desire nothing on earth but You.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever.
But as for me, God’s presence is my good.
Asaph is a model for us that teaches us how to respond to the goodness of God. First, he teaches us to repent of our wickedness and to trust His goodness to cover our sins. Second, Asaph teaches us to find our all in Christ. To look to Jesus as our highest treasure.
Main Idea of the Message: When confronted with the evils and sufferings of this world, the Christian should respond by believing that God will bring justice, by repenting of our unbelief, and by looking to God as our greatest good.
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