Monopoly has been a worldwide favorite board game, everyone in the game is given the same money - $1500. But as we know we all don’t start life with the same opportunities, some are born into poor families and some into rich but the one thing it does get right is that whether you make a lot or a little, whether you have hotels on Mayfair or not, at the end of the game it all goes into the box.
The challenge for every preacher is showing the relevance of a passage. The thing about death is that it’s the one experience that every human shares, it becomes an important lens to understand the rest of life.
This Psalm begins with it a shout out to everyone to listen.
Hear this, all you peoples; listen, all who live in this world, both low and high, rich and poor alike: ~Psalm 49:1-2 (NIV)
This is a Psalm that speaks to all people, not just people who believe, its addressed to all nations, not just God's people. What is said makes sense, whether your inside or outside the circle of faith, because it speaks of death. Its for all demographics, rich or poor, the powerful and the powerless, whether you live in Darling Point or Doonside.
It’s not a lament, or a confession or a praise, it’s a wisdom psalm and it promises understanding.
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding. I will turn my ear to a proverb; with the harp I will expound my riddle: ~Psalm 49:3-4 (NIV)
This is the very thing the world is so short on, we have lots of information but not much wisdom, we have lots of knowledge but no discernment, we have lots of Google me this but not much understanding. It begs the question, who is worth listening? With my bible closed I really have nothing worth saying. Lets open this psalm and gain some wisdom.
Why should I fear when evil days come, ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)
The bible is realistic, it expects that days of evil will come but this Psalm also promises hope. Why should I fear and be intimidated when evil comes?
Why should I fear when evil days come, when wicked deceivers surround me—those who trust in their wealth and boast of their great riches? ~Psalm 49:5 (NIV)
Again, we have the importance of self-talk, why should I be afraid in the face of injustice? In this context the threat comes from evil doers who are deceivers. Liars are bad but deceivers are worse because a liar is easier to spot than a deceiver, a liar tells untruths for their own advantage but a deceiver tells a mixture of lies and truths to deceive and harm others.
Deceivers encircle the Psalmist. They both trust in their riches and boast in their wealth. Wealth is power and they were abusing their power by exploiting the poor. The way to dismantle one's fear when you’re powerless is to think God thoughts, to understand the absolute false hopes of wealth through the lens of death.
No one can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for them—the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough—so that they should live on forever and not see decay. ~Psalm 49:7-9 (NIV)
Why not fear?
The price tag for eternity is too expensive for everyone. You can’t buy your way into heaven, you can’t bribe your way out of death. Sadly, you can’t ransom your life or any other, it’s what every grieving person knows, especially if you have lost a loved one, wishing you could take their place but knowing you cant.
When my son James nearly died at birth my theology went out the window, I was bargaining with God to save his life offering
everything I have.
Wealth can do a lot, you can use it to bless others, you can buy your way out of a lot of trouble with an expensive lawyer, you can buy your way out of poverty and move to a nice part of town, you can extend your life by paying for the best private medical treatment, but it cannot stop death.
Either way sooner or later we all owe God a death. As a result, we all die leaving our wealth to others.
For all can see that the wise die, that the foolish and the senseless also perish, leaving their wealth to others. ~Psalms 49:10 (NIV)
Observe how both the rich die with the poor, the wise end up with the fools and the POWERFULL end up the same places as the POWERLESS. Death is the great leveller.
We all leave our accumulated wealth for other others to enjoy. Ecclesiastes makes this point and extends it, you leave it to another and you don’t know whether they will be a fool or wise. Sooner or later either your kids, grandkids or their spouses will blow it away by gambling, or a divorce or a bad investment.
Train yourself not to be easily impressed
Do not be overawed when others grow rich, when the splendor of their houses increases; for they will take nothing with them when they die, their splendor will not descend with them. ~Psalm 49:16-17 (NIV)
We all leave this earth in exactly the same way as we enter, naked and with nothing. On any given day you can have a homeless man and a wealthy man both lying on a slab next to each other at the Morgue, the exact same outcome. Bottom line is, don’t be overawed by the rich who take advantage of you, they can't take it with them.
There is the story of the wealthy man who organized to be buried in his gold plated car, as the car rolled into the ditch, one worker asked to the other “how much did he leave behind?” The answer is always the same “All of it.”
Egyptian Pharaoh’s tried to take it with them but the grave robbers were the only ones who benefitted. You never see a removalist truck following the hearse to the cemetery, which is why it’s tragic when Christians sell their souls for some get rich schemes. The only house that we will live in is our tomb.
In that sense, we are no different from the animals
Their tombs will remain their houses forever, their dwellings for endless generations, though they had named lands after themselves. People, despite their wealth, do not endure; they are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:11-12 (NIV)
When my kids were impressed by someone who was both famous and foolish I said “Don’t forget they will die like a dog like everybody else” now that is good parenting.
The only house you own and benefit from is your coffin. I find Mausoleums very interesting, they are impressive buildings that house a tomb of a loved one, the most famous would be the Taj Mahal. They are attempts to honour the dead and soften the reality of death, they look somewhere between a temple and a hotel, the only difference is that no one gets to walk out.
The Psalmist says, while you managed to leave your name on some piece of real estate or monument, you wont be around to enjoy it. Bill Bryon notes that if you’re buried in a sealed coffin you will deteriorate somewhere from 5-40 years. “The average grave is visited only for about fifteen years, so most of us take a lot longer to vanish from the Earth than from others memories”
This is the destiny of humanity, well not quite...
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves, and of their followers, who approve their sayings. They are like sheep and are destined to die; death will be their shepherd (but the upright will prevail over them in the morning). Their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. ~Psalm 49:13-14 (NIV)
The call is to be wise as to who and what you put your trust in. If you put your trust in yourself and in your wealth than death wins every time. While the mansion you built will carry your name, your corpse is rotting away. If you trust yourself then, death becomes your shepherd and it leads you to destruction. If Jesus is your good shepherd he will restore your soul and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
For one reason, while we can't ransom our lives, while we cant take the place of another, God can and did.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead; he will surely take me to himself. ~Psalm 49:15 (NIV)
Jesus alone is able to ransom us from death. He is the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep.
We have already heard that no one can ransom themselves or another, that is unless they satisfy 3 criteria.
In Jesus alone we have all three, He was truly human, He was totally sinless and He was fully God. That is why Jesus can say…
For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Mark 10:45 (NIV)
It's why He can say:
Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?
The psalmist is pleading, don’t be in awe, don’t be afraid of those who exploit you with their wealth. You’re not the one to live in fear, they are! Their blessings are short lived.
Though while they live they count themselves blessed—and people praise you when you prosper—they will join those who have gone before them, who will never again see the light of life. ~Psalm 49:18-19 (NIV)
Right now we are seeing many lose their jobs while others are getting a promotion, we are seeing some businesses die a slow or quick death while others are bursting with success. If things are going well the temptation is to trust yourself, take care what conversation you’re having with yourself. When other say “Wow, you have made it!” take care how you interpret the praise of others.
As one T shirt said, “The one with the most toys doesn’t win he just dies like everything else.” Not true, there is a different destiny between those who trust in themselves and their wealth and those who don’t.
People who have wealth but lack understanding are like the beasts that perish. ~Psalm 49:20 (NIV)
So, the issue is not just wealth, its not about those who have wealth but those who have wealth without understanding.
How do I know that I am not putting my trust in myself and in what possessions I have, Jesus will urge us:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. ~Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)
So you can take it with you! if you use what you have great or small as if it belongs to God. You own absolutely nothing!
Death is proof of that. You are but a steward entrusted by God with much or little and as stewards we will give an account.
I was talking to one of our overseas ministry partners, they said “I want to live life like I’m playing Uno not Monopoly” “What do you mean?” “In Monopoly you win by ending up with the most things, in Uno you win by giving all your cards away.” I thought it was a helpful image.
I want to commend those who have kept their jobs but have not panicked, you are still generous and supporting the work of the gospel and care for the poor.
As Psalm 90 ends, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Or as Luther put it, "Teach us that we must die…"
Teach us to not be afraid.
To not be intimidated.
To not be overwhelmed with those who take advantage of us.
Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Teach us to not put our confidence in ourselves and in what we have.
But to trust in our Jesus for he alone can ransom us from death.
And set us free that we may store our treasures in heaven.
In Jesus name Amen.