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Saints and Sinners

Psalms 1 • April 14, 2024 • g1291

Pastor Gino Geraci teaches a message through Psalm 1:1-6 titled “Saints and Sinners.”

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Pastor Gino Geraci

April 14, 2024

Sermon Scripture Reference

I’ve titled this sermon Saints and Sinners. So you probably already noticed, “Wait a minute; I’m in this sermon!” Yes. Perhaps a saint? Perhaps a longtime sinner? Let’s look.

Psalm 1 reads, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

The Bible has a sharp division between the godly and the ungodly. I grew up in a world where my father used to say to me, “Gino, there are two kinds of people in the world: the Italian people and people who wished they were.” But there really are two kinds of people in the world: the godly and the ungodly, those who have hope and those who need hope.

In this passage, there are two men, there are two ways and there are two destinies. And in this psalm, there are two, sharp descriptions: what the saint loves, in verses 1-3; and what the sinner sincerely and successfully manages to embrace, in verses 4-6.

You’ll have to remember that the Psalms are Hebrew poems meant to be sung. And there was only one thing that kept me from becoming a famous singer: I have no talent whatsoever. But a lot of people don’t let that stand in their way. There are a couple of Geracies who are really talented: my daughter-in-law, Carolyn Geraci, for one. And some of you with gray hair like me might remember back to 1972 to Sonny Geraci. He sang a song:

“Precious and few are the
Moments we too can share.
Quiet and blue like the sky
I’m hung over you.”

If you love music and were trained as a musician, then you’re probably familiar with the musical scale. In that scale is something called the famous “middle C.” The music flows up from middle C and down from middle C. And like a song, Psalm 1 will begin on a high note and end on a very low note.

The psalm will begin with the Hebrew word translated “blessed.” In the original language that word is plural rather than singular. We could translate that opening word “O how abundant is the happiness!” Or we could say, “O the blessedness of the man!” Or, “The multiplied happiness of the godly man or the godly woman!” It isn’t just experiencing the drip, drip, drip or occasional drip of a blessing. But there is this constant expectation to experience the torrential flood of God’s goodness and blessings.

I’m willing to concede at this very moment that sometimes it’s hard to be a Christian. But it’s harder to be an unbeliever. Pick your hard. Are you going to walk with God or not walk with God? There are blessings for those who walk with God. And then the psalmist sings a song about the dire warnings for those who walk away from God. So in poetic language, the psalmist is going to describe what I would call “three aspects or degrees” of the person who departs from God and conforms to the world.

We conform to the world when we accept the world’s advice. We conform to the world when we become willing participants in the ways of the world. We conform to the world when we adopt the world’s most fatal attitudes, beliefs and behaviors. And the most fatal attitude is the contempt for God, for what God has said, for God’s precious Son and for the Gospel itself.

Imagine living in a world where a person says—you probably know this person—“I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Jesus. I don’t believe in the Bible.” And you say, “Good luck with that! I already made my choice!” I’m not going to kid you; being a believer is hard. But it’s hard being an unbeliever. So pick your hard.

“In the law of the Lord,” verse 2, “the law of the Lord” serves as both a defense and an offense against the wicked, who counsel the saint to walk away from God’s plan. You’ll notice the psalm begins with the word “blessed,” but it ends with the word “perish.”

So the psalmist is singing a song about two men: the saint and the sinner. The song is about two paths: the road to glory or the fool’s highway. And it’s about two destinies: one with God and the other absent the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. Absent hope and absent grace.

The psalm begins with the saint’s path, verse 1. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.” The psalmist begins, interestingly enough, not with the power of positive thinking but rather with the ability to say, “No!”

My Father was from New Orleans, so part of my life was spent there. Unfortunately my parents separated and divorced when I was very young. So from June to August, I lived in New Orleans. But from August to June, I went to school in Southern California. I grew up in Apple Valley and Hesperia. When we moved there in 1958, it was Roy Rogers and Dale Evans and us. There wasn’t a whole lot there.

But my Father sold cars. He told me that in order to sell a car, you had to get the person to say, “Yes.” He would say something like, “What would it take for you to buy this car from me today?” I remember thinking, If you can solve world hunger and completely eliminate the threat of nuclear annihilation, I will buy the car from you today. Yeah; I had a way of saying, “No” from a very early age.

In this psalm, the saint, the person who is blessed, is marked not simply by what they can do but also by what they can’t and won’t do. In the popular culture, we are trained to say, “Yes.” We emphasize the positive and deemphasize the negative. But the psalmist is singing a song of separation. The person who is blessed, who is happy, is the person who makes the conscious decision to ignore ungodly advice.

And you are living in a world where there are people who will tell you that you can’t trust the Lord, you can’t trust the Bible, you can’t believe “all of that nonsense.” I’m not saying there aren’t unbelievers who can’t give certain godly advice. There are unbelievers who are heart surgeons, rocket scientists and some who can tell you how to build a bomb and explode that bomb. I’m not disputing that unbelievers know things. What I’m disputing is that the unbeliever has adequate and sufficient knowledge about how to have their sins forgiven and how to get to heaven. So you don’t have to listen to the unbeliever.

Now the person who is blessed and happy makes the conscious decision to ignore ungodly counsel. We don’t stand “in the path of sinners.” What does that mean? Does it mean we can’t have unbelieving friends? No, that’s not what it means. Does it mean we have to be rude and unkind to unbelievers? That’s not what it means. That’s not what the passage is teaching. Jesus was a friend to sinners. But He doesn’t sin. In order to maintain friendship with sinners, He refused to sin. The psalmist is using poetic language to warn the saint; refuse to participate in the unfruitful works of darkness. We don’t participate in the sinner’s activities.

There is another way to think about this verse in very simple but dramatic terms. Number one, you have no reason to listen to the ungodly. You have no reason to embrace ungodly counsel. You don’t have to listen to them about your marriage, about your heart, about your future. You don’t have to listen to the ungodly when they try to tell you that wrong is right. Number two, you have no reason to linger with sinful people. And number three, you have no reason to lounge or sit “in the seat of the scornful.”

In this verse, when you look at the words “counsel, path, seat,” or “assembly” or “dwelling,” all of these are serving as metaphors for the way we think, for the way we behave, and where we belong.

Now what does that mean that the ungodly embrace ungodly advice? The sinner has his way. The scornful have their seat, and we might think of “the seat” like a pillow. In the Hebrew language, the pillow or the chair or the seat has to do with the overall attitude and worldview that informs the way a person thinks and acts. So in the Hebrew culture, the seated place is the settled place. It is the place where you sit down and make up your mind. So the scornful are those who hold the revelation of Biblical truth in contempt or disdain.

Part of my life as a Bible teacher has been answering people’s Bible questions. We all have questions about God. We have questions about Jesus. We have questions about the afterlife. On my radio program, I remember someone calling me to ask about their pet. Will their pet go to heaven? I said, “Look, when you get there, just call him and see if he comes.” I went for the laugh. But then I realized there are people who really care about their pets. They’re not looking for laughter; they’re looking for an answer. They care more about their pet than they do about their neighbor. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t care about your pet. What I’m suggesting is that the Bible is clear about certain things, like who’s going to heaven and who’s not going to heaven.

So the unbeliever seems to have already made up his or her mind about the Bible, about God, about Jesus. The famous patriot, Thomas Paine, was also known for sitting “in the seat of the scornful.” He wrote, “As to the book called ‘the Bible,’ it is blasphemy to call it ‘the Word of God.’ It is a book of lies and contradictions and a history of bad times and bad men. There are but a few good characters in the whole book.” Thomas Paine wasn’t a Christian. He was an unbeliever. He made up his mind about whether or not the Bible or the Gospel is true, whether or not Jesus is capable of coming into your life, forgiving your sin, cleansing your heart and putting you on a trajectory to heaven.

Let me ask you a question. Have you already made up your mind about the Bible and its content? Have you already made up your mind whether you believe it or you don’t believe it? Look at the saint’s satisfaction with the Word of God, in verses 2-3. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” So the saint’s delight is in “the law of the Lord.” This expression, “the law of the Lord,” is another expression for “the Word of God.” So when the psalmist writes “the law of the Lord,” he’s writing about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. He’s writing about the whole revelation of God, at that time, and what God has had to say to humanity.

It’s the Word of God that is both a guide and a counselor. So the psalmist is pointing out that the saint has a different guide and a different counselor than the wicked. So, again, imagine in the world you have these two sources of information. Where are you going to go to get guidance and information? The psalmist says, “the Word of God.”

You have one of the great privileges; not everybody in America has a wonderful Bible-teaching pastor like John Miller. Because I’ve known him for so many decades, I know that John doesn’t simply teach the Bible. He doesn’t simply urge you to read it. Or even to understand it. He urges you to obey it—to read it, understand it and obey it.

The Biblical meaning of “meditation” is different than that of our popular culture’s meaning. When we talk about meditation in our culture, sometimes we think of Eastern mysticism or transcendental meditation. We ask people who are meditating, “What are you thinking about?”

“I’m not thinking about anything. I’m emptying my mind.”

I’m willing to have an open mind, but I’m not willing to have an empty mind. The saint fills his or her mind with the Word of God. The psalmist doesn’t disengage the mind but rather engages the mind with the Word of God. So the psalmist is inviting you to ask and answer the question, “What does the Bible say about whatever you’re thinking about?”

Years ago, John Phillips offered this picture. He said, “When we come into God’s presence, open Bible in hand and say, ‘Speak, Lord; your servant hears,’ then we read the Bible in a methodical, meaningful, meditating way, seeking to understand and appropriate its truths, we ask the following questions, for instance, when pondering the sacred page: ‘Is there any sin for me to avoid?,’ ‘Is there any promise for me to claim?,’ ‘Is there any victory to gain?,’ ‘Is there any blessing to enjoy?,’ ‘Is there any truth I’ve never seen before about God, about Christ, about the Holy Spirit, about man, about sin?,’ ‘What is the main thing that I can learn here?’ That’s meditation.”

The Bible is God’s Word. So one old saint offered this advice. He said, “When you meditate, imagine that Jesus Christ, in person, is about to talk to you about the most important thing in the world.” So you open up your Bible. You see what it says and notice that God will begin to speak to you about the most important thing in the world. And that’s your salvation. That’s your soul. That’s your destination.

Do you delight in the Word of God? And, again, the idea in the psalm isn’t simply reading the Bible, it isn’t simply understanding God’s Word; it’s a willingness to obey God’s Word. Obedience brings blessing, in verse 1. Disobedience brings ruin, in verse 6. It was Charles Spurgeon who said, “Nobody ever outgrows the Scripture. The Book widens and deepens with years.”

I have over 3,000 books in my library, and I’ve already gotten rid of half of my library. But there is only one book that I’ve never been able to master: the Bible. The older I get, the richer, the wiser and the more important it becomes.

Verse 3 says, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” So think about where we’ve come from in the psalm. The saint is separated from sin. The saint is separated to God and God’s Word. So the saint, who is separate from sin and separated to God and God’s Word, becomes “like a tree planted by the rivers of water.”

By the way, the Bible uses water in a number of different ways, both in the Old and in the New Testament. When water is used for cleansing, it typically speaks of the Word of God. When water is used for drinking, it often is a reference to the Spirit of God.

So I’m going to suggest to you what is happening in our text. The context is that the saint is separated from sin and sinner. The saint reflects and meditates on God’s Word. And as God’s Word is being reflected upon and meditated upon, it releases the Holy Spirit into our lives for refreshment and maturation. It was Jim Hesterly who said that “We underestimate the power of God to empower us to live the life that God has called us to live.”

There are several things the psalmist notes that I would like you to think about and consider for your whole life. When he says, “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season,” he first deals with prominence: “He shall be like a tree.”

Where I live in Colorado, there are a lot of trees. But if you head east going toward Kansas, all of a sudden the trees disappear, and there is nothing but miles and miles of corn. When I drove through it when my kids were young, they would say, “Look! It’s a tree!” Yeah, you wouldn’t think seeing a tree would be such an exciting thing until there were no trees around. The trees are prominent.

The second thing is permanence. It’s “like a tree planted.” The Bible says, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever” (Isaiah 40:8). The trees here are those that live hundreds and sometimes thousands of years. So the saint is said to be “planted by the rivers of water.” That speaks of position.

Again, John Phillips writes, “The droughts, which bring bleakness and barrenness to others, don’t affect him. He has an unfailing source of life.” You’re separated from sin. You’re connected to God by the Bible and the power of the Holy Spirit when you’re filled continually with the Spirit.

So the idea is that when you are separated from sin, connected to God and filled with the Spirit, you then produce fruit. Now we understand Galatians 5. This speaks of productivity. This tree “brings forth its fruit in its season.” And it seems that some seasons are more fruitful than others. There are times for fruitful rest, and there are times for harvest.

I can remember going to India with baskets of seed, planting the seed. I’m using the metaphor of seed and baskets to talk about evangelism. Sometimes we go out and it doesn’t seem like anybody responds to the message. Then all of a sudden you pray, you prepare, you plant the seed and somebody actually believes what the Bible says.

So the tree “brings forth its fruit in its season.” But there seems to be a lasting legacy for the saint: “Whose leaf also shall not wither.” That’s interesting to me. In Colorado where I live, just outside the window of my study, we have trees. In the spring, those trees bud; in summer, they expand; in fall, they turn colors; and in winter, they fall from the branches. But also in Colorado, we have evergreens. The pine trees are green all year, no matter the season.

I think this is what the text is helping us understand for the saint, for the saint who is separated from sin and connected to God, filled with the Holy Spirit producing fruit. You remain an evergreen, green year-round.

D.L. Moody put it this way: “All the Lord’s trees are evergreen. There is no season in which you can’t pray and speak and share and communicate the love of God.” And verse 3 says, “Whatever he does shall prosper.” There are dry seasons and there are prosperous seasons. The saint prospers in his or her ministry, in their family, in their business, in their friendships. Why does the saint prosper? Because the saint is living in friendship fellowship with and in service to the Lord.

And I’m going to suggest to you that there are two kinds of service: self-directed service and Holy Spirit-directed service, where the Spirit is calling you, drawing you, pointing you, directing you.

So the saint’s blessings are now contrasted with the sinner’s sad lot. Verse 4 says, “The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” Who are the ungodly? How should we define the word “ungodly”? These are the men and women who have made the conscious decision to leave God out of their lives. They leave God out of their life in their marriage, in their business, as they’re going from here to there doing this and that.

We’re making a mistake if we think the sinner rarely or never thinks about God. There are sinners who think about God all the time. They just don’t want Him in their life, in their marriage, in their business. So the sinner has bought into the false idea that it’s the sinful life that is the good life. The sinner has fallen prey to the incessant propaganda, the repeated lies that bombard our popular culture, educational establishments, popular and established media or what people call “the legacy media.” Their lasting satisfaction comes from what they possess, their passion and power.

A long time ago when I used to live here, I saw a bumper sticker that said, “The person with the most toys still dies.” I remember another bumper sticker in San Bernardino. I’m coming up Baseline to a red light, and the bumper sticker said, “Honk if you love Jesus,” so I honked, but the person in front of me turned around and yelled, “The light’s still red, dirt bag!” Be careful what your bumper sticker says.

And what of the saint? The Word of God, the Scriptures, the revelation of God commands our attention. We listen to godly advice. We separate from sin. We’re fruitful and helpful. We’re prominent and permanent and prosperous. But the psalmist says, “The ungodly are not so.”

The ungodly are contrasted with the righteous, in verses 1-3. The righteous love the Word of God. The ungodly, not so much. The saint searches the Scriptures day and night, reflecting on its content. The ungodly, not so much. The ungodly are not rooted, they are not grounded, they are not stable, they are not fruitful or enduring or prosperous. They are manipulated and driven. They “are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” So the ungodly are seen, in a metaphor, like an empty husk.

Have you ever planted a flower or a seed or a fruit seed? Can you imagine taking a seed, emptying it of its kernel and plant it? What happens if you plant husks? Nothing happens, because husks can’t grow anything. They’re empty. They’re driven by invisible forces, invisible winds.

This is exactly opposite of the saint. You are not driven by invisible forces and invisible winds. You are rooted and grounded, because you have something solid, real and permanent to hold on to.

People in this world claim they have all the answers. They claim they’re the ones with the substantive views. They claim they’re the ones with the weighty arguments. But the Bible says that they are “chaff.” And by definition, that means “no weight, no substance,” and they’re sterile. If you plant chaff, you get nothing.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:12-13, says, “Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day…” meaning the Day of Judgment “…will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

So do winds sometimes blow in helpful directions? I suppose so. But in Ephesians 4:14, Paul says “that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”
By the way, if you’re a child, it’s okay to be a child. The Bible isn’t criticizing being a child. But the Bible is criticizing adults who act like children, who think like children and respond like children.

The saint is not characterized by immaturity and instability and gullibility. The saint should never, ever fall victim to fads, novelties, conspiracies and professional scoundrels, who are Bible quacks. Most serious of all is the danger of deception.

So the ungodly man or woman thinks he or she may be the captain of their fate, they may think they’re in charge of their future. The unbeliever is saying, “I’m on my own. And I want to be on my own! And I want to stay on my own!” It’s hard being an unbeliever.

I accepted the Lord 51 years ago at Calvary, Costa Mesa. Did you see the movie, The Jesus Revolution? Yeah; I was one of those guys in that tent. But I still remember what it was like to be empty, going to bed at night wondering what the future would hold.

In verse 5, it says, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” What “judgment” is the psalmist singing about? What “judgment” does the psalmist have in mind? He’s basically saying that the sinner will have no standing in the judgment seat of God. In other words, the sinner doesn’t have a leg to stand on. The sinner has no place among the saints.

A very famous atheist was asked the question, “What are you going to do if it turns out that everything you thought is untrue—what are you going to do if all of a sudden you discovered that the Bible is true, that Jesus is the Lord, that He is in the business of forgiving people and you stand before the Lord God of heaven, what are you going to say to Him?

The atheist said, “Why didn’t you give me more evidence?” You laugh, and rightly so. How much evidence do you need?

In the future, there is a “great white throne judgment” for the wicked that is spoken of in Revelation 20:11-14. And the ungodly will be whisked away into eternity, everything will change and there will be no place to stand, because this person has built their house on sand (Matthew 7:24-27). And in verse 6, it says, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

Now think about where we’ve come from. The psalm begins on a high note and ends on this solemn, low note. So where it says, “The Lord knows the way of the righteous,” it’s interesting to me that the Lord knows the difference. The point is that the Lord knows the difference between the righteous and the unrighteous. We don’t know the difference.

I can look out onto this congregation, and I don’t have the supernatural ability to look at people and say, “There’s a halo! Look at all these halos! Look at all these people who are going to heaven!” I have no such ability. But God does. He knows the truth. He knows the truth about your heart. He knows the truth about your spiritual condition. He knows the truth, even if you don’t.
The Lord is not only aware of the righteous and who they are, but He approves of and cares for the righteous. But it shouldn’t come as a shock and a surprise that He disapproves of the unrighteous.

The word “knows,” in verse 6, deserves at least a little bit of attention. It means not only “to be informed about the facts”; it includes the wider meaning “to care about, be concerned about.” Some have even suggested that it means “ownership.” So where it says, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,” Jesus also said, “My sheep hear My voice” (John 10:27) and it means that Jesus was saying, “I know who you are.”

The ungodly are not simply those who do wicked, evil things; the ungodly are those who stubbornly refuse to bow the knee to Jesus. This is why the “ungodly shall perish,” verse 6. The word “perish” means different things in the Bible. In this case, the psalmist seems to mean that the path of the sinner leads to emptiness or ruin.

Elsewhere the word is used to describe the ultimate loss of hope, the frustration over plans that didn’t work out the way you had hoped they would work out. And in the New Testament, the thought is captured in Christianity’s most famous verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). So the Bible teaches the ultimate parting of ways between Savior and unrepentant sinner.

Which are you? Are you a saint or a sinner? Do you walk “in the counsel of the ungodly”? Do you stand “in the path of sinners”? Do you sit “in the seat of the scornful”? Or do you “delight…in the law of the Lord”? Do you reflect on God’s Word?

Over 50 years ago I was at that tent in Calvary Chapel, Costa Mesa, where I heard the Gospel and they sang a song, Two Roads From Which to Choose:

“The road to glory or the fool’s highway,
The rocky one or the Lord’s new freeway?
Choose before the Savior comes;
The road to glory or the rocky one.
Please decide before the Lord descends:
Sweet road to glory or the bitter end.”

Make sure today that you are on the right path.

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About Pastor Gino Geraci

Gino Geraci is the founding Pastor of Calvary South Denver.