“Wealth and Death” June 29, 2014
SI: We’re spending the summer in the Psalms.
In the Psalms we see all the great questions of life addressed—
and all the emotions and longings of our hearts.
Psalm 49 touches on a subject that we deal with every day of our lives.
INTRO: I read a news story this week about a 4,000 year old tomb
that was just discovered in the country of Georgia.
Archaeologists who excavated it believe the chieftain of some
long-forgotten tribe was buried there.
The tomb was a very elaborate wooden chamber inside an earthen mound.
Inside the tomb were two chariots,
the remains of six other people—probably sacrificed family and slaves—
and lots of precious gold objects, jewelry and such.
This chieftain was obviously a wealthy man in his day, wealthy and powerful.
But all his wealth could not slow the march of time or prevent his death.
The discovery of that old tomb is not a big story compared to other things
in the news like Iraq or immigration.
But it’s valuable because it prompts us to look at two things that most people never
ponder seriously side by side—wealth and death.
People think and talk a lot about wealth.
Probably every single day of our lives we think and talk about money.
Sometimes people think and talk about death—not as much or as seriously.
But very rarely do people insist on talking about and thinking about money
side by side with death, and insist on looking at wealth through the lens of death.
That’s what Psalm 49 does.
It looks at wealth through the lens of death.
It shows that you will never understand wealth unless you
just as seriously consider death and take it into account.
Actually, it will be worse than that—it’s not just that you won’t understand—
wealth will become a curse to you.
It might even lead to your eternal destruction.
Psalm 49 is in a class of Psalms that Bible scholars call wisdom Psalms.
Think for a minute about the different types of Psalms you are familiar with.
There are Psalms of confession, like Psalm 51.
“Have mercy on me, O God, blot out my transgressions, against you only have I sinned.”
There are those Psalms called laments or complaints, like Psalm 3.
You’re telling God about a problem you have and asking for his help.
“O Lord, how many are my foes. Arise, O Lord, and deliver me.”
There are praise Psalms, like Psalm 66 last week.
“Shout with joy to the Lord. How awesome are your deeds.”
Wisdom Psalms are different.
They aren’t as intensely personal as other Psalms—spelling out problems.
They usually aren’t as emotional as other Psalms.
They don’t tell you to shout or cry out.
Instead, they are more reflective and thought-provoking.
They sound more like the book of Proverbs or the book of Ecclesiastes.
They deal with the big questions of our existence.
And their purpose is to help you look at life from a God-centered perspective.
So let’s look at Psalm 49 in more depth.
I have a complicated outline for you note-takers—but that’s ok for a wisdom Psalm.
Three points with two sub-points in each.
1. Two sober facts
2. Two Gospel truths
3. Two ways of life
MP#1 Two sober facts
The first sober fact is this:
Wealth cannot ransom a person from death. Vs. 7-9
No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him—the ransom for a life
is costly, no payment is ever enough—that he should live on forever and not see decay.
There was a movie a few years ago called The Bucket List.
Jack Nicholson played a multimillionaire and Morgan Freeman a poor janitor.
They meet each other while undergoing cancer treatment and become friends.
Morgan Freeman makes a list of all the things he wanted to do in life before
he kicked the bucket—things financially impossible for him—
like eating in the finest restaurant in Paris and climbing the Great Pyramid Egypt.
Jack Nicholson finds the list, and with his unlimited wealth,
they set off on a round-the-world adventure to check things off the bucket list.
But never in the movie does Jack Nicholson’s millionaire character say
to his poor Morgan Freeman friend—I’m going to ransom your life.
Out of my vast wealth, I am going to pay for you to live forever.
Hollywood knows that’s so implausible, it wouldn’t even work in a movie.
Money can’t redeem a person from death.
Someone has said money can buy a bed, but not rest.
Books, but not wisdom. Food but not an appetite.
Finery, but not beauty. Houses, but not a home.
Medicine, but not health. Amusement, but not contentment.
Religion but not salvation.
In 2006 Warren Buffett gave $1.5 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
At the news conference announcing his gift he said:
“There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.”
But what does verse 8 say? No payment is ever enough.
Money can’t buy you life, not physical life for spiritual life.
Even so, vast multitudes of people, both low and high, rich and poor
give their lives to money, and put their hopes in it and long for it.
They think, if I had it, then my life would be ok.
When they have it, they feel like they are holding all the good cards.
But guess what? The trump card is death.
When death comes, money and wealth is absolutely powerless.
It cannot ransom you from death.
The second sober fact is this:
Death separates a person from wealth. Vs. 10-11
For all can see that wise men die; the foolish and the senseless alike perish and leave their
wealth to others.
There are no U-Hauls behind hearses. There are no pockets in grave clothes.
You can’t take it with you.
That movie, The Bucket List, was apparently inspired by a book called
100 Things To Do Before You Die written by a man named Dave Freeman.
It was a best-seller. And from the royalties, the author began to do all the things
in his book, all of these great and interesting adventures, checking off his list.
But before he was halfway through, he slipped on wet tile in his California home,
and hit his head and died—a freak accident. He was 47 years old.
He had made it as an author. The money was coming in. He was living the dream.
Doing his one hundred things before he died—and he died—and left it all behind.
As I studied for this sermon, I found that many of the older commentaries
were full of stories and anecdotes about wealth and death.
One story that caught my attention was told by a pastor many years ago who
was called to the deathbed of a man who was not a believer.
This man was afraid of dying, and he asked the pastor to pray for him.
So the pastor said: Take my hand, let’s pray.
But the man wouldn’t hold hand and the pastor asked him why not.
The man admitted that he was holding in his fist a key to a lockbox
with all his gold, and he was afraid if he held the pastor’s hand,
he might take it away from him when he died and steal his money.
The delusions people have right up to the last that they can take it with them.
No, says Psalm 49. You’re going to die and someone else will get all your stuff.
Wealth cannot ransom from death, death separates from wealth—
These are not exclusively Christian observations. Many other religions and
philosophies have said the same thing. They are obvious to any thinking person.
But in verse 4 the Psalmist calls this subject of wealth and death a riddle.
What that means even though people might know this intellectually, don’t get it.
Wealth has too much of a hold. Death is something they are unwilling to face.
But we can face the sober facts and smile, because we have something greater.
That brings us to . . .
MP#2 Two Gospel truths
Gospel means good news. The good news about Jesus Christ.
The first piece of good news is that there is a ransom from death.
It’s a ransom that money can’t buy, but God provides it. Vs. 15
But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself.
We can’t save ourselves from death, but God in his mercy redeems our lives.
To redeem something means to buy it back.
If you pawn some jewelry, you get a redemption ticket, and in 30 days
you redeem your jewelry by paying back the loan plus interest.
If you don’t redeem it with required payment, the pawnbroker keeps your jewelry.
The Bible says the wages of sin is death.
That’s why there is no money or good works that can redeem you from death.
The price for sin is death. Period. Blood must be shed.
It’s not that God is cruel or sadistic, not at all—he’s just.
He takes everything we moral creatures do with utmost seriousness.
As Judge of all the earth, he cannot ignore lawbreaking.
He cannot take a payment of money to acquit the guilty.
We despise human judges who do that—why should it be any different with God?
But God will redeem you. That’s the message of grace in two words—But God!
So what is the ransom and redemption that God both demands and provides?
What is the payment plus interest?
Look at the front of your bulletin. 1 Peter 1:18-19.
For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were
redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with
the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.
The death of Jesus Christ is your redemption.
His blood the ransom payment for your life.
So when you die trusting Christ, your body goes into the grave but what
happens to your soul? How does the Psalmist describe it?
God will surely take me to himself. He will receive me.
You die and go into the loving hands of Father who sent his Son to die for you.
Do you believe that?
That’s the first piece of good news, the first Gospel truth.
The second is that there is that one day there will be a resurrection.
And it will be a resurrection into a life of great wealth.
Where is the resurrection in this Psalm? It’s in verse 14.
Remember the Psalmist is describing those people who trust wealth
and spend their lives heaping it up, even having lands named for themselves.
And when they die, they lose everything. All they have is the grave.
But then there is this remarkable statement.
The upright will rule over them in the morning.
Even thought this Old Testament believer didn’t have the extent of revelation
that we have now, enough had been reveled for him to know that
God has greater things planned for his people.
There’s going to be a morning. There’s going to be a new life after this one.
And in that new life the people redeemed by Christ’s blood will rule.
They will rule over everything the ungodly claim as their own.
The Bible doesn’t teach that we get wings like angels and spend all eternity
floating around on our own cloud in heaven playing harps.
When Christ returns, there will be a new morning.
The first morning in a new creation.
And everyone who has been redeemed by the blood of Christ
and who has died trusting God will not stay in the grave.
We will wake up on that morning.
The dead in Christ will rise with glorified bodies
by the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.
And we will inherit the earth. The meek will inherit the earth.
This world made new. This world restored, with all of its wealth.
And it will be ours to use and explore and develop and enjoy and rule
all for the glory of God.
Every morning we will wake up and say: What are we going to do today?
Trust wealth and worship money and in the end you will die and lose everything.
Trust Jesus Christ and you will get eternal life and the resurrection,
and an inheritance in the new creation.
That brings us to the third point.
MP#3 Two ways of life
What difference does this make?
How should we live as believers in light of the truth of this Psalm?
There are lots of applications I could make as a preacher.
I could say: Because of this, you need to tithe.
Money and wealth can’t save you. You can’t take it with you.
You know you’re going to heaven and you will have everything one day—
so why are you stingy? Why aren’t you tithing, giving more to kingdom work?
Let’s pass the offering plate. I could say that.
And I think that would be a pretty good application.
But look at the application the Psalmist makes.
He says: Since this is true, money can’t save your soul, you can’t take it with you.
But God has redeemed you through Christ, and by trusting Jesus you will
be raised to a glorious inheritance, here’s the application—
Don’t be afraid.
He says it twice. Verse 5.
“Why should I fear when evil days come, when surrounded by those who boast of riches?”
There are all sorts of evil days you will face in this fallen world,
and some of those evil days will be financial. Maybe you’re facing them now.
You don’t have to be afraid of evil financial days.
Take this Psalm’s wisdom, work it in deep, meditate on it and it will calm panic.
Then again in verse 16. The NIV says “Do not be overawed,” but same word, fear.
“Do not fear when a man grows rich, when the splendor of his house increases.”
It’s saying, You don’t have to be afraid of financial forces.
Whether it’s a rich man throwing his weight around or bigger forces like
recessions, depressions, inflations, the IRS, Wall Street.
You might feel the force of them, you might feel like a pawn—but you’re not.
They are destined for the grave. You are going to live forever and
“The upright will rule over them in the morning.”
That’s the first way of life. A life without financial fear.
A life without financial fear not because you have a big bank account.
That doesn’t help. Rich people worry about money too, just different ways.
But a life without financial fear because God has saved you, and he has said, Psst.
Let me tell you a secret. Let me give you some insider information, my child.
All this stuff people live for. It’s going away. I’ve got great things for you.
Isn’t that the way of life you want?
Freedom from the fear of evil financial days,
freedom from the fear of powerful financial forces.
You can have it by trusting Jesus Christ who loved you and died for you.
Or, and this is the second option, the other way of life:
You can trust money and spend your life thinking about, meditating on it,
and devoting your heart to it. Whether you are rich or poor, make it your god.
So what kind of god is Money? Is it a kind god? Is it a loving god?
Does it care for and save the people who trust it?
No, it’s a tyrannical and unstable god.
It never lets you feel like you have enough. It gives false confidence.
Remember Financial Crisis of 2008? $1trillion in wealth gone overnight. Poof.
Some god that is. To promise security and then jerk the rug out from under you.
But time goes on and people forget, because they love this god.
They want to believe its promises.
What happens to people who trust money? What kind of life do they have?
Did you hear the Psalm’s refrain, the repetition in verses 12 and 20?
But man, despite his riches, does not endure; he is like the beasts that perish.
A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish.
Trusting money turns you into a stupid sheep.
You follow it and it shepherds you right into the grave where
where you will be stripped of all your possessions, all your comforts,
and you will suffer regret and emptiness forever.
The Psalmist says that death will feed on those who trust wealth,
and they will decay in the grave far from their princely mansions.
This is not a condemnation of money itself. We’re not looking at everything
the Bible teaches about money and wealth—just this Psalm.
As the saying goes:
God doesn’t mind his people having money, he minds money having his people.
Here’s the question: Who are you trusting? Really?
I’ve told you many times of Tim Keller’s two tests for revealing who or what
you really trust, your functional savior.
He calls them the solitude test and the nightmare test.
The solitude test is this: Where does your mind go in solitude?
When the busyness of life is hushed, what do you think about?
What are your dreams? What do you imagine? Those are the things you love.
The nightmare test is similar.
What do you dread losing more than anything else?
Is there anything you would rather die first than lose?
Once again, those are the things you love most.
I think that if we were honest we would admit that often in the solitude of life
it’s money, or the things money could buy, or the way money could change
or lives and circumstances, give us security, lift us up with right people.
And I think we would have to admit that we could have plenty of nightmares
about money, considering how easy it is for us to worry about it.
Even as believers, that’s our struggle.
We want to trust Jesus only and completely, but money and wealth pulls us.
This Psalm can help. Read it, meditate on it. Let truths sink in deep.
It’s God’s word so it comes with power.
I’m going to brag on a church member this morning.
I asked her if I could tell this.
Glenda Murcks sometimes calls me during the week to ask what passage
of Scripture I’ll be preaching on so she can read it ahead of time.
I asked Glenda if I could share this conversation, she said I could.
Anyway, I told her it would be Psalm 49.
She called me back and said: I’m struggling with this Psalm. What’s it about?
I said: You tell me. I need some help writing my sermon. I got my pen ready.
Glenda said, Ok, this is how I read it:
“You can’t be rich enough to escape the grave.
You can’t be smart enough to escape the grave.
The only way you can escape is by God’s grace
and trusting Jesus to get you to heaven.”
Amen, sister. Preach it! So let’s trust Jesus and not be afraid.