How to Be Assured of a Happy New Year

Sermon by Ralph Kelley on December 31, 2017

Psalms 1

Good morning. If you have your Bible with you, please turn to Psalm 1; Psalm 1. If you want to use one of the pew Bibles in front of you, Psalm 1 can be found on page 448. If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, I suspect Psalm 1 is familiar to you. Psalm 1 serves as the foundation of the entirety of the Psalter, of the book of Psalms itself. In Psalm 1, we find the core principles of why it’s important to be people of the Word of God. In contrast, we learn the problems with rejecting the Word of God.


Let me give you an outline of where we’re headed this morning. Psalm 1 is only six verses long. In the first verse, we will consider the Word of God rejected. In verses 2 and 3, we will consider the Word of God received. Verses 4 and 5, the Word of God needed. And in verse 6, the Word of God trusted. Before we read this wonderful psalm, will you bow your heads with me and let’s ask the Lord to bless this time on the reading of His Word and the preaching of His Word.


Father God, we do indeed pause and we ask Your blessing on the reading and preaching of Your Word, for without Your Spirit’s work, what we do would be done in vain. So, Lord, we ask that You would bless this portion, the reading of Your Gospel. We pray this in Christ's name, amen.


Psalm 1. Remember, this is the Word of God:


“The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

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; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will 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 wicked will perish.”


Amen. The grass withers, the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.


Good morning and happy New Year. I trust you don’t think it’s too premature for me to go ahead and wish you a happy New Year. After all, we’re only about twelve hours out from it becoming 2018. It’s sort of hard to believe that another year has come and gone and we’re about to start another year in just a matter of hours. Whenever New Year comes, we have an opportunity to reflect on the past and to look towards the future. For many of us, we’ll set resolutions that will carry us all the year through, and for some of us, we’ll set resolutions that will carry us several weeks until our resolve gives out. As we look to the new year, we have anticipation and excitement for a fresh beginning. And we might have concern and doubt about life’s trials. As I think about the new year, I think I can say on a fairly sturdy ground that the following things will happen unless the Lord chooses to come back soon. First of all, as individuals and as a church, I think we’re going to have some pretty good days. We’ve already got on the church calendar several weddings. We have families expecting children. Good days do lie ahead. But unless the Lord acts in a way that’s different than He has in the past, I suspect we’re also going to have some hard days. We already heard this morning about the death of a church member. Certainly, we will, at times, probably mourn the passing of friends and family this year. We will struggle with the result of sin – both our own and others – in 2018.


Committed to Bible Reading

Which might make us wonder, “Is 2018 going to be a good year?” For us to be assured of a happy New Year, we need to be people who are committed to reading our Bibles. For only in God’s Word will we learn how to be able to handle the successes and failures a new year is going to bring us. May I suggest that you find a Bible reading plan somewhere. They’re available all over the internet. I was looking around yesterday; Ligonier Ministries has a long list of different Bible reading plans. Feel free to download those and set some sort of system in place where you can be faithfully reading the Word of God day in and day out. Now I’ll say that to you, but let me also give you this caution about Bible reading plans. And that is, that sometimes if you miss a day or a few days it might become discouraging and you just decide, “I can’t do this. I’m going to give up.” That’s not a good strategy. If you miss a few days, just pick up where you left off or jump ahead to where the reading plan is. Reading your Bible is better than not reading your Bible in 2018. Don’t let the system discourage you.


All this being said, how will we be best suited for a successful and prosperous 2018? Well, let's go to our text. In the text that's before us in Psalm 1, we see two distinct type of people. We see the blessed and joyful person, and we see the wicked and sorrowful person. The difference between being blessed and joyful and fruitful, and being wicked and sorrowful and fruitless, is the way they approach the Word of God itself. Look at the first two verses with me, will you? "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; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” I think all of us going into 2018 would like to fancy ourselves as being the blessed man that we find here in verse 1. And by “blessed,” the psalmist means more than just someone who’s happy. It’s someone who is actually enjoying God’s special favor and special grace. If you take that right now for 2018, right, if I said that you could be the blessed person that we read about in Psalm 1 and I’ve asked you, “Do you want to be that person or the wicked person?” I suspect most of you would raise your hand and say you’d like to be the blessed person. I’d ask you to raise your hands, but we’re Presbyterians! We don’t really know what would happen if we all raised our hands at once and I shudder for us to find out this morning!


The Word Rejected

But back to our text! The blessed man is compared and contrasted by what he doesn’t do and by what he does do. Most notably this is where we see the Word of God being rejected. Note with me if you will the three points of how the blessed man is contrasted with the unrighteous. First, the unrighteous “walks in the counsel of the wicked.” Second, the unrighteous “stands in the way of sinners.” And the unrighteous “sits in the seat of scoffers.” The blessed person does not do these things. So what is it that the psalmist is saying about the unrighteous? First, the unrighteous person “walks in the counsel of the wicked.” He’s associating himself with people he should not be with. We know there are some people who completely reject the Word of God. These are people we know we should be avoiding seeking counsel. We see here that some people, at least, are checking in on what the wicked have to offer them. After all, they may just say the things that they want to hear. Have you ever sought counsel on something and kind of been to person to person trying to find when somebody will finally agree with you and give you the counsel that you wanted to hear all along? I would suggest that’s not a good practice, especially if you end up seeking counsel from someone who rejects the things of the Lord. It’s a good reminder to us we should choose our friends carefully.


The person seeks counsel from the wicked, and then the next place we find him, he “stands in the way of sinners.” Finding the wrong counsel has led him to hanging out with the wrong people. He actually now is knowingly associating with the people that he shouldn’t be with. But that’s a reality in life. When we receive and accept bad counsel, it will lead to improper conduct. Note though that the downward spiral continues for this person in verse 1. Now he’s “sitting in the seat of scoffers.” He’s become a fixture in the presence of the unrighteous. He’s no longer seeking counsel; he’s now the counselor, scoffing at those that are weak and foolish, those who spend their time trusting the Word of God. This is a natural progression we see all the time and it’s heartbreaking. When a person is contemplating sinning, he might try and find those who would encourage the sin. Then, he becomes accustomed to his sin and is surrounding himself with those who encourage such behavior. Sort of a support group of people telling him, “It’s okay. Everybody’s doing it!” Finally, the sin becomes so pervasive the one originally struggling with the sin has now become so entrenched he’s an encourager for others to be sinning.


Sin Destroys

Let me pause here for a moment and say if you’re struggling with a specific sin and you think it’s pulling you further and further down the spiral, you need to take heed. I don’t know what your sin might be that you’re struggling with. Maybe it’s pornography or premarital sex. Maybe you’re feeling the pull of substance abuse or maybe purposeful mismanagement of others’ finances. Maybe you struggle with lying or gossiping. It could be a thousand different things. I don’t know what it is that you’re struggling with, but whatever sin has captured your imagination, you need to take heed. First, let me assure you that sin is not your friend. It’s not actually trying to bring you the happiness it’s promising to bring you. Secondly, you do not have control of your sin; your sin has control of you. I know at times we think we can take out our pet sins out of our drawer and we can play with them for a little bit and then put them back away and think that has not caused any damage, but that’s not the way sin works. If you think that you’ve got control of it, then you’re blind to the damage that sin is causing in your life.


Thirdly, and if you don’t hear me say anything else about your sin, please listen carefully to this. Your sin exists for one purpose and one purpose only – it’s bent on destroying you. There are no benefits in sin. As we’ll see in a few minutes, the person who wants to hold onto his sin is the person who will not survive the day of judgment. Do what you must do today to stop the destructive pattern of sin in your life. If you’re struggling with ongoing sin and you want to be free from its effects, I have good news for you. There is a place where we can turn, we can learn and grow in the things of the Lord. Our sin offers us false hope and false assurance of joy. But we see in this psalm where we can find real joy and real hope. Verse 2 tells us the blessed person finds their hope in the law of God. The law of God can mean a specific law, but it can also mean the entirety of Scripture. A person who delights in the Word of God, meditates on the Word of God, is a person who is blessed, joyful, fulfilled. We are told in verse 3 he is like “a tree planted by streams of water.” It bears fruit. Its leaves don’t wither. And all he does, prospers.


The Word Received

Our second point this morning is the Word of God received. What does it look like for us when we receive the Word of God properly? For those of you that know my wife Wendy, you know she loves the outdoors. And her favorite thing to do outdoors is hiking. And to her, there is no hiking like hiking through and near a mountain stream. I cannot help but to think of Wendy when I read this psalm because the psalmist is so right. When Wendy brings me along on her hikes and we’re by those mountain streams, those trees are just incredible. I am amazed at the vitality of the trees that grow near the stream. They’re healthy, they’re strong; their leaves are more green than the ones we encounter deeper into the woods. And trust me, Wendy takes me deep into the woods, must further than I care to hike, but I try to keep up with her! The tree by the stream is healthy and always growing. So why is the person who delights in the Word of God more fruitful, less prone to wither, and more prosperous? Why is this person described as blessed? Why is this person more joyful? What is it about being a person who spends time in the Word of God that makes them a more well-rounded, better person than the person who doesn’t?


And let me give you several reasons. One, if you read your Bible, you’ll learn what to do and what not to do, and therefore, you’ll have a better life. Doing things God’s way is better than doing things our way. Two, if you have regular time in your Bible, you will be able to see when the enemy is trying to lure you into sin and you’ll be able to say “No” to sin and “Yes” to righteous living. Being people of the Book will help you be on the lookout for Satan’s schemes. Three, we should read our Bibles so we might find peace in this crazy, chaotic world, and be reassured there is a sovereign God who’s ruling over this earth today and we can take comfort on all that happens in our lives in 2018, no matter how difficult some days may be. We should have great hope in the certainty that God is watching over His people and acting in their best behalf, each and every day.


You Get Jesus

These three reasons for reading your Bible are good and they're solid reasons, but there's another reason that's even better. The reason I want you to make 2018 a year where you dedicate yourself to reading your Bible like you never have, because when you're faithfully spending time in the Word of God, when you're meditating on the Word of God, and when you're planted in the Word of God like a tree that's planted by a stream of water, you get Jesus. You get Jesus. You get more Jesus the more you read. You get the Gospel truth that Jesus came to live a life that you could not live and to die a death that you could not die and to rise from the tomb so that you may have eternal life. The entirety of Scripture is the story of God redeeming His people. It's the one thing we need to hear. That's sometimes where people get lost. And by people, I mean solid Christian people – in this church and other churches – have come to me and said, "Why is it that you preachers are always preaching about Jesus and the Gospel? We know that already. We're already Christians!" Well, the reason we always preach Jesus is there's nothing else to preach but Christ and Him crucified. The day we stand up and preach a sermon on “The Four Ways to a Better Life” and we don’t preach the Gospel, is the day you need new preachers. We are people who desperately need to hear the message of the Gospel over and over and over. We are in a battle with an enemy who will never quit fighting us. He’ll come to us and tickle our ears with the things we want to hear. He’ll convince us to do the things we know we shouldn’t do and then we’ll go ahead and do them. And then once we’ve done it, he circles back around, exposes our guilt and shame, and tells us we’re worthless and certainly not suitable for God.


See, our sin leaves us alienated from God. Sin leaves us in a place of guilt and shame. But Jesus has come to repair our relationship with God and He’s come to remove both guilt and shame. He’s come to fix us where we’re broken, yes, He’s come to heal us where we’re hurting, yes, but more importantly, He has come to actually bring us from death to life. Only Jesus can bring us from death to life. God has given us a Book to show us over and over that God will indeed redeem His people from their sins. Do you know why He does this? He does this because He loves you. On every single page of your Bible, either explicitly or implicitly, you can hear God shouting, “I love My people and I’ll do whatever it takes to redeem them from their sins!”


Owner’s Manual

I think many of us misunderstand the purpose of the Bible. We think it’s a helpful tool for us when it says things we might agree with, and then when it says things we don’t agree with, we kind of discard it for the time being. Friends, the Lord gave us our Bible because it actually serves as an owner’s manual given to us by God how we should approach life. And unfortunately, far too many of us treat our Bibles like we do maybe an owner’s manual that comes with a car. We kind of throw it in the glove box and we forget about it.


Last year, David Strain and I were on a road trip from Birmingham back to Jackson and we were in my car. And I mentioned to him that, "You know, I can't get my GPS navigation lady to speak loud enough. It's just too quiet." Well, David and I went on this adventure then pushing every button on my little touch screen on my car as we were headed down I-20. And we got all sorts of different signals and different noises made. And I think we maybe even made her speak in Spanish at one point, but we never got her to speak any louder! And the next day – but we had a lot of laughs, so that was fun. And the next day, Wendy was with me in the car and I was telling her about David and Ralph’s big adventure and how we failed miserably and then she did the most amazing thing. She opened the glove box and she got out the owner’s manual. She turned to the table of contents. She turned to page 235. She pushed “Settings,” “Audio,” “Navigation,” “Volume,” looked at me and said, “You want it louder?” “Yeah.” – Beep! Beep! She said, “Alright, there you go!” I think she said something to me as she put it back in the glove box – “Did you all even think about looking at the owner’s manual?” And I said, “No, never even crossed my mind!” And she said something about, “Sometimes I don’t understand you men,” and I thought to myself, “That’s okay, I never understand you women so I think we’re pretty even there!”


The point is, don’t treat your Bibles like forgotten owner’s manuals. There’s good news for us found within every page of Scripture; news that we need to know. So verse 3 is really good news for God’s people. It’s the Gospel message that makes us like a strong tree. Jesus is the stream that continues to feed us life-giving and life-sustaining waters all of our years and even into eternity.


The Word Needed

But as good of news as verse 3 is for God’s people, verses 4 and 5 are bad news for those who don’t know the Lord. Verses 4 and 5. “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” Our third point this morning is the Word of God needed. These verses take an ominous turn from the good feeling of the tree by the stream. These verses force us to take a good look at our own hearts. And we realize just like Robert Frost in “The Road Not Taken” there are only two ways here. Which path are you taking? It’s the ultimate question we must contemplate for we see in these verses that the path we take has significantly different outcomes. One is a path that leads to eternal joy and peace and one leads to the very judgment of God Himself. God judging a man on man’s own merit leads God to condemn that person to an eternity in hell where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth; where there is forever separation from the grace and mercy of the Lord. But forever judgment from a righteous God on an unrepentant person.



Folks, I don’t know about you, but when I hear myself say those very words, it stirs up in me a sense of urgency. We as God’s people know the truth for all about eternity. It should fire us up to get going on sharing the Gospel message with others. I know you have friends and family members who need to hear this truth. I know you have coworkers and clients that need to hear this truth. Their eternity is at stake! How about in 2018 you put aside your fears and inhibitions and you get to telling others about Jesus and how He came to save people from their sins. How about you get serious about what you can give towards missions in 2018. How about you get serious about praying for Gospel advancement in 2018. How about you figure out how you best fit into the vision of First Presbyterian Church “to glorify God by making disciples on the North State Street corridor, the greater Jackson area, and around the world.” How about you pray if maybe God might use you in fulltime, cross-cultural mission work. We here at First Presbyterian Church should be praying God will be raising up fulltime missionaries from this congregation. Dare I even encourage you to pray for our sons and daughters to go into the uttermost parts of the world and tell others about Jesus.


How about some of you that are on the back nine of your vocation. Instead of, when you finish, just going into the clubhouse and taking it easy, maybe if you have good health and decent wealth, maybe God could use you for fulltime mission work going forward. Be praying about such things. People's eternity is at stake. So if we’re going to do these things, that’s going to take courage, and we need to be certain that we can trust the Word of God if we’re going to be so bold as to be a church that is committed to sharing the Gospel message to the world; that we’re certain that we have the right message.


The Word Trusted

So where can we find such encouragement? Where can we find such certainty? Well, look at our final verse. Verse 6, which is our last point also – the Word of God trusted. "For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish." Again, leaving no doubt the way of the wicked is an awful way to go. But the encouragement for us is found in the first part of the verse. "The LORD knows the way of the righteous." When I first started looking through this psalm and thinking about preaching on it, I was kind of scratching my head some on verse 6 trying to make sure I had a good interpretation of what it means. I mean if it said, "The righteous know the way of the Lord," I would have said, "Yeah, I get that. As we grow in grace, we get to know the way of the Lord better." But this says, "The LORD knows the way of the righteous." See, this is better than righteous knowing God's way. For the Lord has known His people for all time. He has, from eternity past, loved His people. He loved us in our rebellion. He died for us even when we were His enemies. His love for us is so strong and so complete that it's a never-ending love for us. The way He treats His people is completely opposite of the wicked.


So again, if you’re loved for this much and you’re cared for this much, how can we help but want to share this news with others? We can trust His Word to be true because we know of His love for us. Will you join me in 2018 in being bold for Christ and declaring the Gospel truths to others? Will you join me in 2018 in being a person who’s blessed by meditating on the Word of God? For in the Word of God alone we will find all we need to be assured of a joyful and fulfilling 2018. Let’s pray together.


Father God, we want to be men and women, boys and girls of Your Word. Will You light a fire in each of our hearts going forward that we would work diligently to be people of the Book? And through that, Lord, will You use us to tell others about the good news of Jesus Christ? We pray this in His name, amen.

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