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Servanthood to God

Sermon passage: (Psalm 116:12-117:2) Spoken on: August 26, 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 116:12-117:2

The Egyptian Hallel Psalms which we have been covering has the Exodus event as the backstory. And when you think about Exodus, you might assume that the spectacular plagues and the dramatic crossing of the Red Sea would naturally be the climax of the story. That’s how Hollywood would have presented it. But, that is a common misconception. That’s because if you were to survey through Exodus, you would see that salvation is not an end in itself, but only a means to an end. What is the end then? What is the true purpose of Exodus? The end is the God-‘People of God’ relationship between YHWH and Israel. (repeat) This is why though the Exodus starts with salvation, it ends with the law-giving and the tabernacle building.

Let’s do a short survey of Exodus. Even before the salvation, this is what God wants Moses to tell the Israelites:
Exodus 6: 6 “Therefore, say to the Israelites: ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from being slaves to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment.7 I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God.’”

As humans, we put great value in God’s salvation, and rightly so. Nobody wants to die or to live in slavery. God's salvation is our ticket to life and freedom. But what’s next after the salvation? That’s an important topic, perhaps even more important than salvation itself. Ironically, the Israelites themselves understood this. Slavery is bad, but it could be a lot worse. This is what they said to Moses when the Egyptians come chasing after them:
Exodus 14: 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

I think the words “didn’t we say to you in Egypt” is very telling. They had doubts about the salvation even when in Egypt. Why did you save us? Egypt is better than death in the desert! In hindsight, they are not wrong. Aside from Joshua and Caleb, all of them did die in the desert. Let’s take a moment to reflect on this often neglected detail. We marvel at the Exodus, we celebrate the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, but we gloss over the forty years of struggles and bickering between God and his people through the wilderness. Getting out of Egypt is only the beginning. Even getting into the Promised Land isn’t the end you might imagine. The core and climax of the narrative has always been the God-‘People of God’ relationship. And it is tough. Being the people of God is tough. Obeying his will is tough.

Moving on, we will see that the difficult nature of this relationship is already evident the moment they stepped out of Egypt.
Exodus 15: 24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
25 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.
There the Lord issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test. 26 He said, “If you listen carefully to the Lord your God and do what is right in his eyes, if you pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees, I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.”

Essentially, God is saying to them, “Guys, let’s make things clear now that we are out of Egypt. I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. (Ex 6:7) With that in mind, can we have a little trust and reliance from now on? A little obedience to my word, if you don’t mind? I am the Lord after all.” So, even before the law-giving on Mt Sinai, God is telling them the core values of this relationship: Trust and obedience. Yet, their minds were only on themselves as the next immediate incident would show:
Exodus 16: 2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”

Salvation is meaningless if there is no relationship. From Exodus, we see that these people would rather be back in Egypt than to be saved from slavery by God. Salvation has meant nothing to these people. You may wonder what is the point of going through all these passages in Exodus? It is to demonstrate to you that salvation cannot be the purpose of Exodus. Yes, the salvation kick-starts the possibility of the God-People relationship, there would be no relationship if they still belong to the Pharaoh in Egypt. But it is only when they know what the relationship meant (meaning the Law), and how they could maintain that relationship (meaning the tabernacle), that is when the relationship becomes a lasting and meaningful one.

This is why Exodus is a good backstory for Psalm 116. Last week, I tried to dramatize the salvation story in Psalm 116. [1] It was a harrowing fight with Death. My purpose was to make you experience the imminent danger, and then the sheer power of God’s rescue. If there was a message, it would be this: that Death was winning, but by the grace of God, we have life restored. Yet, I would have failed completely if you thought that was the point of the entire Psalm. It would be like Moses leading the people out of Egypt and all of them ended up lost and dead in the desert. Salvation is meaningless if there is no relationship.

But thankfully, the psalmist didn’t end with the salvation story. He understood the importance of the relationship. He would return to the Lord for all his goodness. (v.12) And this return has three elements. The first element is a sacrament, a symbolic ritual to publicly display his will. And this sacrament is a drink offering. Given the customs then, he probably poured out the wine before him, as an indication that one is offering it to God. But this is more than just an offering. It is a symbol of him pouring out his life to God. The second element is the vow. Twice he said that “I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people” (14,18). So it is not just a sacramental display with objects as metaphors; it is also a display with words to spell out his true intent. But what is the content of his sacrifice? What is his vow? That is the third element; it is a vow of servanthood. He would sacrifice his life as a life-long servant to the Lord. Not just a servant, but a family servant. His life belongs to the Lord.

He says, 16 Truly I am your servant, Lord; I serve you just as my mother did; you have freed me from my chains.

This verse expresses the vows of servanthood. I believe that is the climax of the Psalm. Similarly, the climax of Exodus is when Moses receives the Law at Mt Sinai. Just as how the Psalmist became the Lord's servant, the Israelites became the people of God when they accept his word and his will. Yet, as we reach the climax, there is a paradox here. “One might call the relationship of servant to master a form of bondage.” [2] So from the bondage and chains of Death, the Psalmist ends up with the bondage of servanthood to God. We can see the parallel in Exodus. The Israelites were also freed from bondage in slavery in Egypt, but a relationship with God meant that they now enter into the bondage of the Laws of God. That is the paradox. But it is also the truth, and it is the truth that we should understand about our salvation and our faith.

Maybe some of us cannot accept this. That is understandable. We want the rescue without the relationship. We want the salvation without the servanthood. But that is not possible. Look at the Israelites. Physically they were rescued from slavery in Egypt. But without a true relationship with God, they wallow in every circumstances; their hearts were still bound to Egypt. You cannot survive with salvation without servanthood. I’ll readily admit that the laws of God are binding. Disobedience of the Law means judgment and death. But obeying the law gives freedom. If you were to study the laws, you will see that they free the people from a mentality of oppression. They free the leadership from power-play. And the laws teach them how to live as a free community. In the end, when the Israelites were without the law and without God, the Prophets tell us that their violence and social injustice were no different in nature as the slavery in Egypt. Their disobedience to God eventually led them to their own destruction.

What is true for Israel as a nation is also true for us individually. What God gives to us is grace. His salvation is grace. But giving up the past means embracing the new. We need to accept grace, but we also need to accept the new bondage to God. I believe that is what Paul meant when he says:

Romans 6: 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! 16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey —whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. 18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.

You are either a slave to sin or a slave to righteousness. When we are saved from Death by the blood of Jesus Christ, we naturally become a slave to righteousness. This is why the Psalmist’s natural response of his salvation is his vows to be a servant of God. He expresses this in vows, and also with the symbolic display of a drink offering. For us Christians, such a display of servanthood takes on special meaning because Jesus did exactly the same at the Passover meal. Jesus is the servant of God, and also the servant-king of his people. And he poured out his life as a drink offering.
Matthew 26: 27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.

From Exodus to the Psalmist, from the Psalmist to Jesus himself, I hope I've convinced you that our faith does not end with salvation. Our faith ends with servanthood. Like Jesus, it is not just servanthood to God, but also being a servant and a sacrifice to one another. This life of servanthood is similarly expressed by Paul.
Philippians 2: 14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 16And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.

Paul used his own life as an encouragement to the Philippian Church to the ways of servanthood. At the end of his life, Paul repeats this same testimony of servanthood to his successor Timothy.
2 Timothy 4: 6 For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

I am encouraged by Paul's testimony. I would testify that this binding servanthood is not a burden, but it is freedom to life itself. We often think that when we evangelize, the message is about the salvation. But I would argue that the message is more than just salvation. It is also the servanthood. The gospel we evangelize should also be about the servanthood to God. I’ll end today’s message with Psalm 117. It is a psalm to everybody to worship God.
Psalm 117: 1 Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples.
2 For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.

But why should we worship? Why all nations and peoples? There is no better commentary of this Psalm than Paul himself who quoted this Psalm in Romans.
Romans 15: 7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. 8 For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the Jews on behalf of God’s truth, so that the promises made to the patriarchs might be confirmed 9 and, moreover, that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written:
11 And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples extol him.”

For Paul, it was the servanthood of Christ that demonstrates the relationship between God and his people. And the reason why we Gentiles worship God is because we are drawn by this relationship. It is a God-People relationship. It is a Lord-servant relationship. The first of the Hallel Psalms, Psalm 113 states, Praise the LORD, you his servants; praise the name of the LORD. The original servants were the Israelites. Psalm 117 has extended this grace to all the nations and all the peoples. Let us also be servants of the lord and praise him.

[2] Goldingay, Baker Commentary pg. 347

Psalms 116:12–117:2 (Listen)

12   What shall I render to the LORD
    for all his benefits to me?
13   I will lift up the cup of salvation
    and call on the name of the LORD,
14   I will pay my vows to the LORD
    in the presence of all his people.
15   Precious in the sight of the LORD
    is the death of his saints.
16   O LORD, I am your servant;
    I am your servant, the son of your maidservant.
    You have loosed my bonds.
17   I will offer to you the sacrifice of thanksgiving
    and call on the name of the LORD.
18   I will pay my vows to the LORD
    in the presence of all his people,
19   in the courts of the house of the LORD,
    in your midst, O Jerusalem.
  Praise the LORD!

117:1   Praise the LORD, all nations!
    Extol him, all peoples!
  For great is his steadfast love toward us,
    and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever.
  Praise the LORD!