May 22, 2005
A few months ago I was walking across campus at Dallas Theological Seminary, and I saw a blind man making his way across a court yard. He was using a walking stick with confidence, and I stood for a moment and watched him walk just amazed at the resiliency of the human mind. Here this guy had basically memorized the layout of the campus, and he walks where he needs to go without seeing a thing. I turned to enter a building when it dawned on me that he was headed for a corner of campus where I knew there was a new construction site. I turned around and wondered if he knew it was there. A few more moments showed that he did not. I ran across the courtyard just as he walked into one of those plastic orange fences that surround these kind of projects. It was obvious he was confused. I explained what was going on, and he asked me to walk him back to the court yard. He could get to where he was going from there. When I asked him where he was going, he said that he intended to walk down the block to the corner. I took a quick look down the block and suggested I walk him to where he needed to go because there was a bucket loader parked in the middle of the side walk working on some power lines. His little walk to the corner would have ended in disaster. As I walked with him, I couldn’t help praising God for my eyes.
These two little balls of fluid nestled into sockets in my head mean the world to me. I imagine if I said that “sight” is probably the most important sense we have, you would all agree. I think I would rather lose a finger than lose my eyes. These eyeballs are a wonder of engineering. You think your digital camera is complex. Think for a moment about all the parts of your eye: start with the SCLERA, the outer part of your eye that holds this little ball of jelly together, or the CORNEA, the transparent front of your eye that lets light in, or the IRIS, the adjustable part of your eye that controls the amount of light that actually gets into your eye, or the RETINA the projection screen of your eye that receives the light, or the OPTIC NERVE that carries the light signals to your BRAIN, which is actually the “seeing” organ. Let’s stop here because the brain is unbelievably complex. The actual process by which you look at an object and “see” is an astounding process that involves: light waves, chemicals reactions, electrical impulses that all work together with split second precision. Take a look at the room around you, and notice the colors, notice the seamless way you perceive depth, think about how your eye reacts to light, how it focuses almost instantaneously. It is simply unbelievable what God has made. If you are ever at a loss for things to praise God for, stop and think about your eyes. If that’s not enough to make you cry out in thanksgiving . . . , you must be, well, blind.
But as powerful as your eyeballs are, they have one significant limitation. Every single eye in this room has a fatal flaw. Your eyes can only see physical reality. Every eye in this room is limited to seeing physical things: cars, people, buildings, planes, dogs, grass, pollution, microbes, trees, books, computers. These things are all physical, and they are the only part of reality accessible to our eyes. Our eyeballs are completely useless when it comes to perceiving spiritual reality. The spiritual side of life is just as real as the physical side; we just can’t see it. Oh, don’t make the mistake of thinking that the spiritual is less real than the physical. It is not. It is just as real, only we can’t see it. But it’s there and as real as eyeballs in your head.
I want to try to persuade you that as valuable as your physical eyesight is, you have a set of spiritual eyes that are even more valuable. Not only do you have spiritual eyes, but you must use them if you want to live a life that finds its satisfaction in God.
Every human being has spiritual eyes. God gave them to us so that we could apprehend the spiritual realities of life. Sadly, those who have not trusted Christ are completely blind spiritually. Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4:
But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled only to those who are perishing, among whom the god of this age has blinded the minds of those who do not believe so they would not see the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Corinthians 4:3-4, emphasis mine).
They cannot see unless the Holy Spirit gives them sight. Tragically, the eyes of many Christians don’t see very well either. Often our spiritual vision is blinded by the glare of what our physical eyes see. I want to convince you that it is more important to make sure your spiritual eyes can see clearly than almost anything else you do. I want to do that by thinking with you through Psalm 73.
Psalm 73 is what students of the Bible call an individual song of thanksgiving or a wisdom Psalm. In this Psalm, a single author stands before a congregation of gathered worshipers and gives praise to God for delivering him from some difficult circumstance. The testimony time has multiple purposes. First, the psalmist wants to thank God for deliverance; second, he wants to provide a warning to others about what almost happened to him; third, he wants to encourage his listeners to greater faith in God.
Psalm 73 begins with a summary of his theology.
Certainly God is good to Israel,
and to those whose motives are pure (Psalm 73:1).
As we will see shortly, this is a man who is resting in God’s goodness. This statement represents his settled conviction after the trouble he recounts in the Psalm. He states his conclusion here as a preview. The reference to “those whose motives are pure” will become clear in light of his problem. The image you should have in your mind is a group of people gathered together for a time of testimony. Someone comes to the microphone and says, “Man alive, God is so good to those who do right. I almost lost it out there; I almost wasted my life. Let me tell you what happened,” and the story begins. He says,
But as for me, my feet almost slipped;
my feet almost slid out from under me
For I envied those who are proud,
as I observed the prosperity of the wicked (Psalm 73:2-3).
He took those two little eyeballs of his, and he focused them on the proud and wicked around him and what he saw made him envious. Why was he envious? Well, just look at them! He says:
For they suffer no pain;
their bodies are strong and well-fed.
They are immune to the trouble common to men;
they do not suffer as other men do (Psalm 73:4-5).
These people are healthy! If they get sick, they have access to the best medical care. They can afford all the pain-killers they need. They are well fed, they shop at the best super-markets, and eat at the best restaurants. They can afford the best security systems to protect them from the trouble the rest of us have to live with. These people have it made! But their comfortableness is not limited to physical comforts. They are emotionally secure as well!
Arrogance is their necklace,
and violence their clothing.
Their prosperity causes them to do wrong;
their thoughts are sinful.
They mock and say evil things;
they proudly threaten violence.
They speak as if they rule in heaven,
and lay claim to the earth (Psalm 73:6-9).
Talk about confident. These guys are the epitome of swagger. Because they have so much, they act with impunity, without regard for consequences. They speak their mind, and if they must, they use violence in their negotiations. They think they own the joint and can do what ever they want. Verse 9 is a magnificent caricature. It literally says, “They put their mouth against heaven // while their tongue walks the earth.” Talk about a big mouth! This is an ancient3 image that describes their insatiable appetites.
To make matters worse, everyone likes these people. Not only are these men healthy and wealthy, but they have the adulation of the masses. They are all the rage! The Hebrew here is difficult, but I think the point is that people are attracted to them and are led into a similar lifestyle by them.
People follow them and want to be like them. Their behavior emboldens the crowds to reject God as well. Talk about negative examples. So with a cry of protest the psalmist concludes the description of what his physical eyeballs could see.
Take a good look! This is what the wicked are like,
those who always have it so easy and get richer and richer (Psalm 73:12).
I say this is a cry of protest, and not a shrug of resignation because the psalmist knows in his heart that something is not right. He recognizes what his eyes are showing him, but he is in conflict because he understands that this is not the way the world should be. His sense of justice, and faith in God, tell him that the wicked should get what they deserve: damnation! He looks out at the wicked trampling the righteous in the dust, and he wants to blow his whistle and yell, “MORAL FOUL, UNNECESSARY WICKEDNESS, ETERNITY IN THE PENALTY BOX!” Instead, he sees them winning the game of life! Now listen, if you don’t think this is serious, keep reading. What the psalmist saw was powerful enough to cause a crisis of faith!
I concluded, “Surely in vain I have kept my motives pure
and maintained a pure lifestyle.
I suffer all day long,
and am punished every morning” (Psalm 73:13-14).
This guy is actually questioning his approach to life and is beginning to regret the fact that he has heretofore been committed to a life of purity! Behold the power of what your physical eyes see. Understand that these two little balls of goo stuck in your head are actually capable of causing you to doubt your faith. In verses 13-14, you are witnessing the psalmist right on the edge of destruction. He mentioned, in verse 2, that he had almost slipped; well, here it is. His foot is just about to step on the proverbial banana peel. Behold the power of what your eyes see. This is a man in turmoil.
What holds him back may surprise you.
If I had publicized these thoughts,
I would have betrayed your loyal followers.
When I tried to make sense of this,
it was troubling to me (Psalm 73:15-16).
This man is part of a community. He knows he is not an island. He knows that if he gets to the point where he is actually articulating his doubts in a convincing way he will be a traitor to his fellowship. It is fascinating that this holds him from stepping on that peel just long enough to get himself into the temple. The community is not the solution to his problem, but it plays a passive role in keeping him from accepting the painful things his physical eyes are showing him. And believe me, they are painful. If you have ever been wronged or witnessed real injustice, you know the pain of watching the guilty go unpunished.
This man is being torn up inside by what he sees with this eyes.
Then, as if he can find no other relief, he runs to the temple and the rest of reality explodes into view. Like someone stumbling about in a dark room and then finding the light switch, the psalmist “sees” what he has been missing all along!
Then I entered the precincts of God’s temple,
and understood the destiny of the wicked (Psalm 73:17).
Standing in the courts of the temple, the psalmist gained a new perspective on what his eyes were telling him. It was hidden from him before, but now he could see what he was missing all along. He could “see” the end of the story. He could “see” the destiny of the wicked. He could “see” who wins in the end, and it wasn’t the mafia don. He could “see” that in the final analysis, God was in control of even the prosperous condition of the wicked. What did he understand?
Surely you put them in slippery places;
you bring them down to ruin.
How desolate they become in a mere moment!
Terrifying judgments make their demise complete!
They are like a dream after one wakes up.
O sovereign Master, when you awake
you will despise them (Psalm 73:18-20).
Now he could “see” that all was not as his physical eyes had told him. There was more going on here that his eyes could take in. The reality of the situation, when all the data was considered, was that the wicked do not actually occupy a secure position. When all the ballots are counted, they don’t have a majority. In fact, although they look good on paper, when both teams take to the court, it’s a blow out. They thought they owned heaven and earth, but they are upside down in their loan. Their lives are like a warm breath on a cold day: here for a second and then gone! They are like a dream, frightening while you sleep, but when you wake up you forget those phantoms.
The result of this new-found perspective was twofold:
First, it brought shame, humility, brokenness, because the psalmist almost accepted what his physical eyes saw.
Yes, my spirit was bitter,
and my insides felt sharp pain.
I was ignorant and lacked insight;
I was as senseless as an animal before you (Psalm 73:21-22).
Second, it brought awareness of facts that he had ignored.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel [wise advice, NET],
and afterward you will take me into glory [put me in a place of honor, NET] (Psalm 73:23-24, NIV).
Trusting his physical eyes, the psalmist had ignored what they were incapable of seeing. He forgot that God is in control of everything, and in the final analysis, God is good to the upright forever because they will be with Him. He should not have doubted his faith.
The result is an exclamation of utter amazement.
Whom do I have in heaven but you?
I desire no one but you on earth.
My flesh and my heart may grow weak,
but God always protects my heart and gives me stability ( Psalm 73:25-26).
I think he means to say something like, “Wow of all the things I could have in this universe, I have God! What in the world could top that! He’s all I need. If I have him what else matters.” Finally, as if to reinforce what he has learned, he declares,
Yes, look! Those far from you die;
you destroy everyone who is unfaithful to you (Psalm 73:27).
The wicked won’t win. God is not required to pay all his bills at the end of the month. But he will make sure that all outstanding debts are paid, either on the cross or in hell. Those who reject Him will be punished. But those who cling to Him will be able to cry out like the psalmist in verse 27,
But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the sovereign LORD my shelter,
as I [in order to] declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:28).
All I need is God! I trust Him so that I can tell what He has done!
Okay, so some of you are sitting there saying, “I don’t get it.” Exactly what do you think he saw inside that temple? He could see quite well before he went in there; what did he see that changed his perspective? To that question, I would answer, his physical eyes didn’t see anything different. Well, okay, they saw the inside of the temple courts, but that’s not what changed his perspective. I would argue that he saw God!
I can see the objections now: “No, he didn’t see God because ‘no man can see God and live’” (Exodus 33:20). Yes, that’s true but that only applies to our physical eyes. It is true that if you could see God, you would be vaporized before you realized what you saw, but the psalmist had another set of eyes. No, not eyes in the back of his head; he had spiritual eyes, and they caught a vision of God that put everything else into perspective.
As he went into the courts of the temple to worship, he came face to face with the God of the universe, and the “sight” of Him changed everything. How did he have this vision? He had it by faith! That’s right! His physical eyes didn’t see a bright light, but the eyes of his heart “saw” something that was no less dazzling. By faith, those “eyes” apprehended the world as it really was.
The eyes of faith revealed that there was more to reality than physical eyes could see. The wicked looked like they were secure, but in reality, they were the most insecure. They looked powerful, but in light of God’s power, they were like grasshoppers. They had the worship of the masses, but they did not have the approval of the One who really matters. All of these facts were not less real than the dust under his feet, but he needed to use his spiritual eyes to comprehend them.
But his spiritual eyes had been blinded. As the sun of envy rose in the sky of his heart, its harsh brightness blinded him from the billion stars of God’s goodness. They were there; he just couldn’t see them because he was looking with the wrong eyes. A trip to the temple reminded him to look again, and this time with the eyes of faith. When he finally saw it, he shouted out to the congregation, “God is good!”
After thinking about his experience, I have to ask myself the question, “What’s my eyesight like these days?” I don’t mean my physical eyes; I mean the eyes of my heart? Do I have 20/20 vision, or am I near blind? Did you even realize that you had a set of spiritual organs with which you could apprehend God? To be sure the Bible is speaking metaphorically, but don’t just dismiss the descriptions as some creative poetic device. The Bible assumes that you have spiritual sensory organs.4 The witness of Scripture is great. Let me just give you some verses from the Psalms:
Think about that for a minute. The Bible assumes that you will be able to know God with the same intensity of experience as you know your friends, your children, your wife. It assumes that you can experience God with the same satisfaction as you do a meal, a flower, a sunset. Spiritual reality is not some alternate dimension that we won’t have access to until we die. The Bible says that it is apprehended by faith with spiritual senses (Hebrew 11:1ff).
Speaking of Abraham and those who came before him, the author of Hebrews wrote,
These all died in faith without receiving the things promised, but they saw them in the distance and welcomed them and acknowledged that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth (Hebrews 11:13).
On this topic, A.W. Tozer writes,
What can all this mean except that we have in our hearts organs by means of which we can know God as certainly as we know material things through our familiar five senses. We apprehend the physical world by exercising the faculties given us for that purpose, and we possess spiritual faculties by means of which we can know God and the spiritual world if we will obey the Spirit’s urge and begin to use them… .5
Do you hear that? We have them but we must use them! The psalmist wasn’t using his spiritual eyes when he looked at the wicked with an envious heart. No, he was using his physical eyes, and what they saw provoked jealousy. The power of the physical overpowered his spiritual senses and blinded them.
Many of us are in the same boat. We look out at the world, and we only see with our physical eyes. Our spiritual eyes are blindfolded, as it were. From lack of use, they have become insensitive to spiritual realities. Our spiritual ears have heard the call of prosperity and comfort for so long that we don’t know how to hear anything else. Our spiritual taste buds have been fed a fast-food spiritual diet for so long that we are incapable of filling our hearts with nourishment. Friends, we are suffering from sensory overload. And the senses being overloaded are not the physical ones, but the spiritual ones. Like delicate instruments, fine tuned to hear the voice of God, they are easily damaged by the blasting waves of the world, and unless we keep them tuned regularly, they will quickly be unable to detect anything at all.
If you have placed your hope in this world for satisfaction, you are blind. Don’t trust your eyes. They can only see the physical side of life. They don’t have all the facts. If that view is not clarified, the result can be raging ENVY, like the psalmist. But it will lead to many other sins: GREED, LUST, ANGER, take your pick. You need the light of the Holy Spirit to restore your sight. If you sit here and claim the name of Christ, but realize that your spiritual eyes have cataracts, you need eye surgery.
So, how do we, like the psalmist, keep our spiritual senses in good working order? How do we go into the sanctuary and, by faith, catch a glimpse of the One who puts all things into perspective? I would like to dwell on a few suggestions.
First, spiritual eyes that“see” are eyes that hope in Christ. The goal is to “see” God, in Christ, with the eyes of faith. I must “see”! I want to understand Him to the extent that He reveals himself so that I can be truly satisfied. Think about the psalmist envying the wicked. He walked into the temple and understood that their lifestyle would never satisfy! He says, “What a fool! I was like a dumb animal!” But it took eyes of faith to “see” that. In that vein, the Apostle Paul prayed for the Ephesians that,
… the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe (Ephesians 1:18-19, NASB, emphasis mine).
Christ prayed for His disciples and those who would believe through their testimony (John 17:20).
Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, so that they can see my glory … (John 17:24).
The Apostle John reveled in the hope of seeing Christ when he wrote,
Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed. We know that whenever it is revealed we will be like him, because we will see him just as he is. And everyone who has this hope focused on him purifies himself, just as Jesus is pure (1 John 3:2-3, emphasis mine).
John Owen, the Puritan, wrote,
It is by beholding the glory of Christ by faith that we are spiritually edified and built up in this world, for as we behold his glory, the life and power of faith grow stronger and stronger. It is by faith that we grow to love Christ. So if we desire strong faith and powerful love, which give us rest, peace and satisfaction, we must seek them by diligently beholding the glory of Christ by faith. In this duty I desire to live and to die. On Christ’s glory I would fix all my thoughts and desires, and the more I see of the glory of Christ, the more the painted beauties of this world will wither in my eyes and I will become more and more crucified to this world. It will become to me like something dead and putrid, impossible for me to enjoy.6
Oh, my friends, strengthen your spiritual eyes so that Christ and the sight of Him becomes your only hope. Think about Him, dwell on what you know about Him, read books about Him. Ask Him to reveal Himself to you through His creation and through His Word. He is the only hope any of us has. And if we do not love the sight of Him, how can we love Him?
Second, the fight to see is a fight to believe. Seeing with new eyes is not just a part of your salvation experience, but part of the daily battle that is the Christian life. Ask yourself daily, “Where is my hope?” Think of the anguish of the psalmist as he went to the only place he knew would bring comfort. He was fighting to believe what God had promised! We desperately need that faith if we are going to know God and see things from His perspective. Listen to Tozer again:
But why do the very ransomed children of God themselves know so little of that habitual, conscious communion with God which Scripture offers? The answer is because of our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things … .7
A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His presence.8
As we begin to focus upon God, the things of the spirit will take shape before our inner eyes. Obedience to the word of Christ will bring an inward revelation of the Godhead (John 14:21-23). It will give acute perception enabling us to see God even as is promised to the pure in heart. A new God-consciousness will seize upon us and we shall begin to taste and hear and inwardly feel God, who is our life and our all. There will be seen the constant shining of “the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9). More and more, as our faculties grow sharper and more sure, God will become to us the great All, and His presence the glory and wonder of our lives.9
As you go through your day, ask Jesus to help you see things from His perspective. You need His help; you will remain blind without it. Ask for it. Don’t let anything distract you from believing Him.
Cry out to Christ like Bartimaeus in Mark 10:51, when Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51a) He replied, “I want to SEE!” (Mark 10:51b, emphasis mine, NIV) Not asking Christ to help you see would be like Bartimaeus asking Jesus to fix his walking stick! The problem was that his eyes didn’t work.
Third and finally, we need to help each other see. The conclusion of this Psalm explains the psalmist’s intention to declare the wonders of what God has done to the congregation. He says,
But as for me, God’s presence is all I need.
I have made the sovereign LORD my shelter,
as I declare all the things you have done (Psalm 73:28).
That I may tell of Your works! That I may tell the congregation what You have done. That I may tell others what I see! So that I can help them see.
Today is our last Sunday at Community Bible Chapel. Tomorrow my family and I will leave for Dubuque, Iowa, where in God’s mercy He has made a place for me on the Bible faculty. As I’ve contemplated what my teaching passion there will be, I’ve come to the conclusion that regardless of what they ask me to teach, I will be teaching God appreciation classes. Hebrew, Theology, Geography, it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same.
Have you ever taken an Art Appreciation class, or a Music Appreciation class? Humanity has produced magnificent works of visual and audible beauty, and yet most people are not able to revel in the wonder of these masterpieces because they don’t know how to appreciate them. They don’t know what to look for. They don’t know what to listen for, so they walk away unimpressed. Appreciation classes can help them learn how to savor good art.
God can be the same way. People, Christians and non-Christians alike, come to God and don’t know what to do with Him. They don’t know how to appreciate Him. They come away thinking “Well, He certainly is big and powerful, but I’m not sure how beautiful He is,” and so they turn instead to sex, or money, or comfort, or vacations or toys, or … take your pick. But Christians who “see” are Christians who can teach others how to appreciate God. We can come alongside someone and say, “Here, let me help you; you’re looking in the wrong place. Look over here.” We stand shoulder to shoulder and say, “Can you see Him? Look again, He’s right in front of you.” This is the heart of discipleship – helping your brothers and sisters, and fellow human beings “see.”
Spiritual eyes are eyes that hope in Christ. The fight to see is a fight to believe. We need to help each other see. So I ask, “Do your spiritual eyes have 20/20 vision? Can you see Him? Can you see Him?!”
Oh Lord Jesus, if you don’t open the eyes of our hearts, we will not see You and cannot hope in You. If You don’t shine the light of Your glory into the dark corners of our hearts, we will remain blind and stumble about. Please open our eyes that we might see Your glory. May Your beauty outshine every other thing that promises satisfaction. May we, like the psalmist, see You by faith and thus gain an eternal perspective on reality. Then out of the abundance of that vision may we be unable to stop pointing those around us to You so that they too might see and believe. We ask this because we believe that it will glorify You to a world full of people who hear, but cannot hear, who look, but do not “see.” Amen.
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript prepared by Steven Sanchez on May 22, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 In 1927, archaeologists digging in Lebanon uncovered an archive of ancient clay documents that date to the 14th century BC, long before this Psalm was written. When translated one of these texts told the story of the Ugaritic god Mot, or Death and described him as having: A lip to earth // a lip to heaven // and tongue to the stars. Into this abyss of a mouth another god, Ba’al, enter in great fear. The psalmist is more than likely using an ancient to describe the appetites of these wicked rich. He compares them to the voracious false god death! See Dahood in the AB. For translation see Cyrus H. Gordon, Ugaritic Literature (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Bibicum, 1949) p. 39; For an introduction to the Ugaritic Myth Baal and Mot, see John C. L. Gibson, ed., Canaanite Myths and Legends, 2d ed. (Edinburgh: T. &. T. Clark LTD., 1977) pp. 14-19 [ET], 68-81 [UT].
4 A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God, (Camp Hill, PA: Christian Publications, Inc., 1982), p. 51.
5 Tozer, op cit., p. 51.
6 John Owen, The Glory of Christ, Abridged by R. J. K. Law, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), p. 7.
7 Tozer, op cit., p. 52.
9 Ibid, p. 58.