Psalm 49 gives us a riddle that it never answers. It asks: What can buy us out of the grave?
This is a puzzle all people must eventually answer (Psalm 49:1-2). The rich think the answer is money. They assume wealth can decrease the inevitability of pain, death, and corruption (Psalm 49:12-13). But they are gravely mistaken (Psalm 49:5-6). Human lives are not valued in currency, so no one can bribe his or her way out of death’s coming (Psalm 49:7-8). Money cannot pay off decay.
If rich people could buy themselves out of death they would live forever. But it’s a fact that they die just like the animals that have no wealth at all (Psalm 49:12, 20). The rich assume wealth on earth is like a deposit guaranteeing God’s blessing, even after death. They say to themselves, “God will redeem my soul from the grave!” (Psalm 49:15). But in dark irony, this false confidence is their downfall.
Death, not God, is their guarantor and shepherd. And death is luring and leading the presumptuous and wealthy to a permanent pasture of corruption (Psalm 49:14). Though they name buildings after themselves now, they will not inhabit them. They will rot in a grave while others inherit the houses they hoarded for themselves (Psalm 49:10-11). Escape from death does not lie in wealth, even if the rich believe it does (Psalm 49:8-9). The riddle: “What can buy us out of the grave?” remains. And at the end of this psalm, all we know for sure is that the answer is not money.
Where is the Gospel?
Jesus rephrases the riddle of Psalm 49 this way: “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26). He tells a parable of a rich fool who trusts that his riches will give him long life (Luke 12:18-19). Sure enough, when death demands his soul, his wealth cannot save him. All that he hoarded for himself is given to others, and he goes to his death destitute (Luke 12:20).
Jesus points out that a man’s life does not come from the abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15). A man’s life comes from the abundance of God. Only God is able to provide the payment that satisfies the demands of death. In Jesus, we have an answer to the riddle because he offers himself as the payment to redeem people out of the grave (Hebrews 9:14). Through Jesus’ death God buys his people out of the grave, not with riches like gold or silver but with his own blood (1 Peter 1:18-19). Jesus is the only price proven to be death-proof!
Jesus is also the good Shepherd who doesn’t lead his sheep to the grave but goes to the grave in their place (John 10:15,17). But Death was too weak a shepherd to keep Jesus penned (Acts 2:24). Jesus rose from the grave, and those who trust Jesus don’t need to worry that death will demand a price they cannot pay. Jesus has disarmed the crook of death’s shepherding staff. And all who bank on Jesus’ payment are guaranteed to walk out of the grave just as he did. And like a Good Shepherd, Jesus brings us to God’s eternal home that will never be handed down to others, but will be ours forever (2 Corinthians 5:1).
See for Yourself
I pray that the Holy Spirit will open your eyes to see the God who answers the riddle of death. And may you see Jesus as the Shepherd who buys his sheep out of death’s corruption and leads them to everlasting life.