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The Trustworthy God

Sermon passage: (Psalm 115:1-18) Spoken on: August 12, 2012
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms

Tags: Hallel

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is the moderator of Jubilee Church, serving there since 2002. 王晓晖牧师是禧年堂的主理牧师。自2002年,在那牧会将近20年。
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Sermon on Psalm 115

Brothers and sisters, we come to church every Sunday for corporate worship. In the worship liturgy, there is always time set aside for singing songs and praising God. It could be in the form of old hymns or contemporary verses. If you are like Thenghian, then praise and worship just isn’t complete without one or two Matt Papas. But whichever the form, have you ever wondered, what is the basis of your worship? How do you know what you are doing is right or even desirable to God? It is entirely possible that a lot of what we do is just self-indulgence. Some might say, “Self-indulgence? No, in my case, it's definitely an enjoyment for God. Gosh, have you heard my singing? I’m sure God is clapping along and getting the rest of the angels to join in.” Well, maybe that’s true. Or it could be that we are like a guy with a guitar downstairs, trying desperately to serenade a lady at the balcony above. At the moment, we can’t see the lady at the balcony. Maybe she’s running downstairs to reward our effort with a kiss. Or maybe the lady is just preparing a bucket of water to douse our enthusiasm. How do we know which scenario it is? This is one of the reasons why we are going through this sermon series known as the Egyptian Hallel. The Egyptian Hallel is a series of Psalms of praise sung at the major Jewish festivals, and especially at the Passover meal. It is even recorded in Matthew and Mark, that Jesus and the apostles did the same before going to the Mount of Olives where he was eventually arrested. Mark 14: 26 When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (also Matthew 26:30) We hope to use these psalms as a reflection of the meaning of worship, and specifically on the nature of songs of praise.

Worship is actually the contraction of the Old English word ‘Worth-ship’, which is a measure of worthiness. Is God worthy? And if he is, should we celebrate his worthiness? These questions are answered in Psalm 113, the first of the Egyptian Hallel Psalms. Two weeks ago, Pastor Daniel explained, beginning with the word Hallelujah, that it is a call and a command to praise the LORD.[1] But Hallelujah is meaningless if there is no worthiness of the “Yah” (YHWH) to be worshipped. What makes YHWH so worthy? It is because “the LORD who is exalted over all the nations, he whose glory is above the heavens, the One who sits enthroned on high, he is exalted, glorious and enthroned, yet he is also the one who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth” (see 113:4-6). If he is merely high above, well, good for him, but we don't have to care about this god. If he is concerned about us, but utterly helpless, then this god would not be worthy. The worthiness for praises is based on the paradox, that though the LORD is heavenly divine, he still stoops down to bring salvation to his earthly people.

Such claim for worship is legitimate in reasoning, but rather audacious in credibility. Is there really such a God with such worthiness? Pastor Daniel asked the question in our minds: Amongst us, we have Christians in poverty, Christian couples who remain barren, where then are the justifications for such claims for worship? Where is this God from above, who is also a saviour to us below? The answer lies in the next psalm of the series, Psalm 114. Elder ChernHan led us through much of the Exodus event, from slavery to freedom, from the parting of the Red Sea to the crossing of the Jordan River, from the victory on the mountains to the water from the rocks. [2] The God we worship and praise is the God of Exodus. The Exodus event is the defining moment of the identity of God. It is also the defining moment for those of us who call ourselves the people of God and worship Him. This is why every Passover is an annual reminder to the Jews, that the God they worship is the God of Exodus, the God who is high and exalted but also the champion of the weak and oppressed.

So far we have heard the call to worship in Psalm 113, and the justification of this call in the Exodus event in Psalm 114. The natural response is of course to worship. Psalm 115 is this response. It teaches us what is proper worship. Today I hope to share a couple of reflections from this psalm regarding worship.

Firstly, the psalm re-emphasizes why we worship. To summarize all that we have said earlier, we worship God for his “love and faithfulness” (v.1). This love and faithfulness is expressed through his mighty act of salvation for his people. The psalm asked rhetorically ‘Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?”’ (v.2). Where is God? Well, the implicit answer is surely, that our God is the God of the Exodus event. That event was what ‘our God in heaven was pleased to do’ (v.3). This is an important fundamental concept for all of us, because there are always those who think that religion is about the ‘god of the gaps’. There are those who think that because these earlier primitive people could not explain a lot of the natural phenomena like volcanos and floods, therefore gods were created out of human imagination. But this is evidently different for the Jews. Their basis of faith stems from a specific event in which God has intervened in their history. And because their faith is event-based, and not created to explain unexplained phenomena, their answer to the question of God's existence is therefore very different. While many of those gods fade away as many of the natural phenomenon are increasingly explained by Science, the God of Exodus does not. You can choose to disbelieve, that is your choice, but you cannot deny the account of these Jewish forefathers.

And their witness is this: in the Exodus event, we have a God who speaks and acts, a God who listens and watches, and a God who is present among his people. And they made this point in direct contrast to man-made idols. The point about God’s speech is even mentioned twice, because God indeed speaks. God’s living word is the Law he has given to his people on Mt Sinai. God's own revelation in word and deed is our foundation of worship.

Because today's passage touch on the topic of man-made idols, I wish to make a slight digression here to address a problem among some Christians. There are some who use passages like this to criticize other religions who worship using idols. They say that they are foolish for worshipping idols of wood and stones. I think this is unwise and unwarranted. Most of these religions understand, that the idols are merely a physical representation of their gods, not the gods itself. They worship their gods using idols, but they are not idol-worshippers. We can disagree with these religions on the forms of worship and who to worship. But what we should not do is to mock them for worshipping the idol itself, which based on my knowledge, they do not. This is warning I wish to convey to those who mock other religions over this matter.

Back to my original point: the first reflection is on who we worship. Our second reflection is on how we worship. And Psalm 115 teaches us that worship is both words and deeds. The words portion of worship seems obvious. Of course we worship with words. We worship aloud! The Psalm amusingly says “17 It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to the place of silence; 18 it is we who extol the Lord, both now and forevermore.” It’s like saying, ‘Of course we will praise the LORD, you can’t expect the dead who are silent to praise him.’ I recall this incident when Jesus entered Jerusalem:

Luke 19: 37 When (Jesus) came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen: 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” 39 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

Jesus was telling them that if nobody was praising, well the stones would start praising. Brothers and sisters, we are living beings. If we do not worship to our loudest abilities, do you really want the stones and the dead to do it for you? I observe that there are some who worship like zombies. Maybe it is because there is a new song, or maybe the music is too loud. But these are not valid reasons to me. There may be times when you really want to worship but the worship leader was a stumbling block to you. I’ve been in those situations. If that is your true sentiment, at the very least, you should be louder at the easier portions or try to clap along. But I suspect some of you just like to sing the songs you like, and that is not right. What is the right attitude? The attitude should be: I want to worship, not the stones or the dead, it is my role to perform as long as I live. Worship leader, give me whatever I need to fulfil this desire. This song? Let’s try it! Clap along? Yes. Dance along? I’ll break a leg. Brothers and sisters, don’t worship like a zombie anymore.

However, worship is not just words but deeds as well. What does this mean? There is a simple way to explain this. If Psalm 113 and 114 are like Exodus, then Psalm 115 is like Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy is basically a covenant made between God and Israel before they entered the Promised Land. After all that God had done in the Exodus, the agreement was for the Israelites to be living in accordance to God’s will in the Promised Land. Besides the law which teaches them how to live righteous lives, they must also be devoted to God alone in worship. If they learn to trust in the Lord, then God’s promised blessing will be upon them. So in verses 9-13:
9 All you Israelites, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield. 10 House of Aaron, trust in the Lord—he is their help and shield. 11 You who fear him, trust in the Lord— he is their help and shield.
12 The Lord remembers us and will bless us: He will bless his people Israel, he will bless the house of Aaron, 13 he will bless those who fear the Lord— small and great alike.

Three times, they were told to trust in the Lord, and three times the congregation responded that they will be blessed. Trusting in the LORD is what it means to worship in deeds. In this day and age where prosperity gospel is such a popular belief, it is hard to see the word ‘bless’ without any sensitivity. My response is to avoid two extremes. The first extreme is to be cynical about blessings. Some might say, ‘if God provides healings, then who needs doctors?’ But today’s passage is an affirmation of God’s blessing, ‘small and great alike’. The other extreme is to treat verses like these as promises to be claimed. It is easy to forget that these verses are not formulas for health and wealth. They are a response based on the Exodus event. There is a proper context to such blessings. So my advice on this issue of blessing is this: God is indeed our ‘help and shield’. However, if you were to survey the events in Exodus and Numbers, you will observe that God operates in his own way and in his own timing. It is right to expect good things from God. But knowing God, you should also expect the unexpected.

To conclude, we began with the question of worthiness. Our response is: Yes, God is worthy because of his act of salvation, whether it is Exodus for the Jews, or the Jesus event for Christians. We worship him in words of praise and deeds of righteousness. Yet such an understanding of worship can easily devolve into merely an exchange of give and take. When it reaches that state, we worship God only for his benefits and not because we value the relationship. I would like to borrow this phrase from the National Day Message: “Let us prepare every child for the test of life and not just a life of tests.” PM Lee was referring to our multifaceted education policy, but it also set me thinking about our attitude towards worship. Is our worship a preparation for the test of life or is it a life of tests? If our worship is predicated on God’s blessings – God must bless me when I worship – then our relationship with God becomes a life of tests. Every difficulty becomes a test of God’s presence, every time God has to cross each and every hurdle to prove his worth in return for our loyalty. But God’s worthiness has already been established in Exodus. The only thing left is your response. Do you respond to God with love? Are you willing to let your life be a worship of words and deeds to God? If so, your worship becomes a preparation for the test of life. I believe that at the end of it, it will be a very rewarding life with God.

Let us pray.

Offering Message:
One of the elements of worship which I’ve not mentioned in my sermon is humility. Worship is a contrast between God’s abundant worthiness and our own limitations. When we worship, we humble ourselves to acknowledge that only God alone deserves all glory and honor and praise. This element of humility is expressed in the first verse of our Psalm today:
“1 Not to us, Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory”
The phrase “Not to us” is emphasized twice, because it is not to us, not to us, but God alone be the glory. And the Latin translation of this “Non Nobis Domine”, meaning “Not to us, O Lord”.
The verse Non Nobis Domine became a hymn. And this hymn was given special mention in Shakespeare’s play Henry V. In this play, and in history, the French invaded England. They had a huge battle. Though the English eventually won, many were dead. At the end of the battle, King Henry V announced for all to sing Non Nobis Domine. That nobody should boast of this victory, for in war nobody is a winner. If there is glory, let glory be to God alone. This is humility in worship. As we have our offering now, let’s reflect on this phrase Non Nobis Domine, not to us O Lord, using this scene from Henry V.[3]


Psalm 115 (Listen)

115:1   Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory,
    for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness!
  Why should the nations say,
    “Where is their God?”
  Our God is in the heavens;
    he does all that he pleases.
  Their idols are silver and gold,
    the work of human hands.
  They have mouths, but do not speak;
    eyes, but do not see.
  They have ears, but do not hear;
    noses, but do not smell.
  They have hands, but do not feel;
    feet, but do not walk;
    and they do not make a sound in their throat.
  Those who make them become like them;
    so do all who trust in them.
  O Israel, trust in the LORD!
    He is their help and their shield.
10   O house of Aaron, trust in the LORD!
    He is their help and their shield.
11   You who fear the LORD, trust in the LORD!
    He is their help and their shield.
12   The LORD has remembered us; he will bless us;
    he will bless the house of Israel;
    he will bless the house of Aaron;
13   he will bless those who fear the LORD,
    both the small and the great.
14   May the LORD give you increase,
    you and your children!
15   May you be blessed by the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth!
16   The heavens are the LORD’s heavens,
    but the earth he has given to the children of man.
17   The dead do not praise the LORD,
    nor do any who go down into silence.
18   But we will bless the LORD
    from this time forth and forevermore.
  Praise the LORD!