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Sunday, June 25, 2017

That Salvation Would Come (Psalm 14, Romans 3.9-24)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; June 25, 2017 - Psalm 14; Romans 3.9-24

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Scripture and Music ::
Singing Together: Come Ye Sinners (Matthew Smith/Indelible Grace)
Singing Together: Here is Love (Lowry, Rees)
Offering of Music (Chris Orr, fiddle): Ashoken Farewell
Hymn of Sending: And Can it Be (SAGINA)

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf) ::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks  the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided  for that purpose.

Today we continue in our Psalm+1 series, in which we look at one of the Psalms, the ancient song and prayer book of God’s people. Each week we also look at one New Testament scripture that connects the Psalm to the Gospel, the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. Today we are looking at Psalm 14 and Romans 3, which quotes that Psalm.

There are four kinds of fools: the fool, the jester, the righteous fool, and God’s fool. Today I want to speak to you about each one.

The Fool (Psalm 14)

This Psalm is attention-getting from the start: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” (v. 1a) And apparently there are many such fools, because THEY are “corrupt” and commit “abominable deeds.” (v. 1b) But the net quickly widens again, before we can start passing judgment on all those other fools: “There is NO ONE who does good.” (v. 1c) In good Hebrew poetry fashion, verses 2-3 rinse and repeat, with the Lord looking down to see if there are any who understand and seek after Him. But again, “They have all turned aside… and become corrupt; there is NO ONE who does good, NOT EVEN ONE.” (v. 3)

Are the foolish aware of their foolishness? That’s what the Psalmist asks in verse 4, citing their particular injustice towards God’s people as one example of their wickedness. And then in verse 5 we read the first hint of anything other than foolishness and wickedness. The Psalmist warns that the foolish should be worried – “in great dread” – because God is on the side of justice and righteousness; in verse 6, God is a refuge; and in verse 7, God has salvation and restoration in mind for His people.

This pitting of human injustice and wickedness against those God would defend, protect, and deliver, is the ultimate description of the fool. The fool either denies God or set’s his or her heart against God, and this plays out harmfully in the lives of others.

The Jester

It seems harsh to define a fool in that way and then say in the same set of verses that no one does good. How can that be? Surely some of us are better than that!

When I originally thought of this second category of fool, it was just to highlight a different way that ‘fool’ has been used: the court jester, the distraction, the entertainment. I did not originally see much connection to the Psalm. But as I worked through the “fool” I realized that the jester describes many of us (or all of us, at times) and is a deceiving way we live in the spiritual fool category without realizing it. If your reaction to the description and definition of fool in Psalm 14 was like mine, you thought, “That doesn’t describe me; I don’t intentionally practice injustice against others or deny God’s existence.”

But I’d use “the jester” as a sub-category of the fool, to describe the ways in which many of us often play the fool. The jester is distraction; the jester is entertaining. I may not have said in my heart that “there is no God,” but I’ve certainly thought, acted, and lived AS IF there were no God. I put God far out of mind and far out of the way so I can do what I want. And I’m a fool.

Because the jester is out of touch with God and God’s right ways, he or she may perpetrate or perpetuate injustice and have no idea. There is no moral compass or standard of God’s Word residing in the heart or guiding the way. Likewise, the jester may not feel any dread of God, because the dismissal of God is so casual, so to the side, so non-combative. But the jester is a fool, nonetheless. I’ve been and often am the jester.

The Righteous Fool (Romans 3)

But what if you think, “Not me!” I believe in God; I take God seriously… I don’t intentionally hurt others or perpetrate or perpetuate injustice. Maybe I’m in that group in Psalm 14 of the “righteous generation.” Maybe I’m one of the good guys! Well, remember that Psalm 14 said, “there is no one who does good, not even one?” That’s the part that gets quoted in Romans 3, when the Apostle Paul writes to the church in Rome.

What he is combatting in this densely theological and long letter is a third category of fool I’d call the "righteous fool.” That he’d need to do so is no surprise; I felt that “not me” surge up in me as I read about the foolishly wicked in Psalm 14. In Romans, Paul is dealing with the early Christians and the tension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians believed they had an advantage over the Gentiles because they had the Law and the Covenant and the history with God. In some early cases, the Gentiles had to first convert to Judaism before being accepted in the Christian community. But Paul takes that on in Romans and elsewhere, challenging the Jewish Christians with, “What then? Are we better than they? Not at all, for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin.” (v. 9) – this is what Romans 1-2 dealt with. Then, as support for his assertion, Paul quotes… Psalm 14! He quotes those same verses about “none righteous, not even one.”

In this chapter and continuing on Romans, Paul calls out a particular kind of foolishness, which he even calls sin. It is thinking that, whether by heritage or behavior, I am superior to others and worthy of God’s favor. That makes a righteous fool. Rather, Paul insists that Psalm 14 is right – there is NO ONE who is good or does good. If it helps, this is not “help an elderly lady across the street” kind of good deed, but the kind of upright, spiritually pure, consistent and persistent good that can hold up to God’s pure and holy righteousness. In fact, Paul delivers a kind of ‘gotcha’ to those who pride themselves in being morally superior by saying that their disdain of “others” is itself sinful and disqualifying of righteousness.

So, here’s the bad news, already delivered in the first few lines of Psalm 14: we’re all fools of one kind or another.

God’s Fool

Neither Psalm 14 nor Romans 3 leaves us hopelessly foolish. Psalm 14 ends with God’s saving activity: providing justice, refuge, salvation, and restoration. It ends with the cry, “Oh! that the salvation of Israel would come!” (v. 7) And that’s the very salvation Paul describes in Romans. God’s salvation has come out of Zion, but not just Israel, but to all who would believe. Paul writes, “…the righteousness of God has been manifested… through faith in Jesus Christ FOR ALL WHO BELIEVE; for there is no distinction…” (vv. 21-22)

God’s mercy is wide and God is showing His original intent, that He would bless Israel in order to bless the world. So His salvation has come out of Israel and is for the world, for all who will believe and receive it. Just to remind us, the end of that last sentence in v. 22 is again the reminder “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). It’s not our goodness, but God’s which saves us. That’s good news, especially if we are hopelessly prone to disobey, turn away, fall short, and rebel.

Here’s the interesting postscript on the topic of fools. One of God’s amazing graces is that He redeems us lock, stock, and barrel. He scoops us up in our imperfection and uses us for His glory. And strangely enough, God even redeems fools. In the beginning chapter of another of Paul’s letters – the first letter to the Corinthians – he points out (irony!) that to those who do not accept or believe in God, the message and manner of God’s salvation sounds like foolishness. That is, the incarnation, the cross, the redemption, not only don’t make sense to those who reject God, but make believers seem the fool

Paul writes, “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (v. 18)

One of my favorite songwriters wrote a song about this called “God’s Own Fool.” In the chorus, Michael Card writes:

When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
He played the fool and He opened our eyes
When we in our weakness believed we were strong
He became helpless to show we were wrong
And so we follow God's own fool
For only the foolish can tell
Believe the unbelievable and come be a fool as well

Irony of ironies: it may be that we are all fools, but because of what God has done, I can be God’s own fool; and that is a good kind of fool to be. Amen!

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