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In the Father's hands

April 13, 2017, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee (Psalm 31:1-8) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Preached at a Maundy Thursday service

Tags: Messianic

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Title: In the Father’s hands
Date: 13th Apr 2017
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee

Psalm 31: 1 In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
2 Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
6 I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
as for me, I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
for you saw my affliction
and knew the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.

This year, our story of Jesus from Christmas to Easter is based on Luke. According to Luke, when Jesus died on the Cross, his last words were Luke 23: 46 “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” This is a quote from Psalm 31, our passage for tonight. But isn’t Psalm 31 about David’s prayer for help? It’s hard to imagine this, but is Jesus crying for help on the Cross? What could that mean? My sermon tonight will be about the meaning and the implications of Jesus’ last words on the Cross.

The first thing I want to say, is that Jesus came to fulfill the mission of God. He came to follow God’s words and to do God’s work. He knew the will of God, and he came to bring people back to God. The mission of God is for everyone. The challenge however is to live it to the fullest. Do you seek and save the lost? Do you bring people who are marginalized into the banquet of God to receive his grace? Yet in Jesus’ time, many are just comfortable where they are, unconcerned about those whom they disregard as mere sinners. Jesus challenged all that when he fellowshipped with these people who are rejected and lost. Jesus brought a challenge to the world: Do you think that you are blessed since you are living a comfortable life? What about the general masses who belonged to the have-nots? How can they be blessed by God? Jesus challenged those perceptions when he then redefined “blessed”, blessed is not just as those living the good life. “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28) In doing the mission of God, Jesus challenged the world and its leaders at that time.

In many of our sermons on Luke this year, we also showed Jesus mentioned servanthood many times. Be ready and vigilant servants. Be willing servants. Be servants who have faith. Be servants who respond faithfully even before the anointed king returns. Be servants who pray hard. Be humble and responsible as servant-kings. Why did Jesus repeatedly talked about servanthood? Jesus was on a mission to challenge what it means to be the people of God. Many Jews pride themselves as descendants of Abraham, God’s chosen people. Yet, Jesus says it should be servanthood and being faithful to God’s word. This is what makes you the people of God. And Jesus challenged them by living his own life in the same way he preached. Luke 19: 45 When Jesus entered the temple courts, he began to drive out those who were selling. 46 “It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be a house of prayer’; but you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” Jesus acted in this way as a response to the word of God in Isaiah 56:7. Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it! Jesus kept the word of God in Isaiah, and challenged the Temple system and its leaders.

I’m telling you all these to show you that Jesus was fulfilling the mission of God. But despite doing God’s work, we are told that Luke 19:47 the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the leaders among the people were trying to kill him. Jesus was fulfilling the mission of God. But his result was suffering. He was despised, betrayed, and eventually killed. We live to fulfil the mission of God. Jesus himself was living accordingly to the mission of God. But in the end, Jesus’ mission led to his death. Brothers and sisters, let me be plain and honest at this point: Life is not going to be easy when you attempt to change the world order. But you might say, Hold on. Who said anything about changing the world order? I thought we were talking about the mission of God and his vision for the world. That’s correct. If the world is just and righteous, then we would be safe in doing God’s work. But what’s if your world is corrupted by the rich and powerful? Or maybe you face people who are stubborn, or quarrelsome or self-centered. They are resistant to change. Then, as the people of God, you have a mission:
Luke 1: 79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.
So, make no mistake. In a corrupted world, God’s mission will be to change the world order. Bringing Light into Darkness. Peace upon chaos. (See Luke 1: 51-52) But brothers and sisters, let me repeat: Life is not going to be easy when you attempt to change the world order.

The easiest way for the opposition to resist you is to attack you with lies. This is what the religious leaders did to Jesus.
Luke 23: 2 And they began to accuse him (to Pilate), saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.”
But Luke showed us that Jesus was indeed innocent.
Pilate repeated 3 times that Jesus is innocent of any crime of rebellion. (see Luke 23:4,14,22) Even Herod who previously wanted to kill Jesus, think Jesus is innocent.[1]Even on the cross, the freedom fighter who was beside Jesus said the same:
Luke 23: 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Yet despite his innocence, Jesus suffered and died from the attack of lies.

Throughout the gospel of Luke, we saw Jesus fulfilling the mission of God. In doing so, he disrupted the world order of the Jewish leaders. Even though we know that he was fully innocent, yet Jesus was attacked and killed by the lies of his enemies. Now, here is the moment where I ask the crucial reflection for tonight: What does this mean for us? We who are called to be God’s servants, to fulfil God’s mission on earth just like Jesus. What happens if we are also attacked for doing God’s work? This is where we come to the last words of Jesus.
Luke 23: 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Jesus’ last words on the Cross, “into your hands I commit my spirit”, are a quote from Psalm 31:5. It means that you entrust your life into God. And you believe that God will take charge of whatever that will happen to you. Psalm 31 is David’s prayer to God when he was persecuted by his enemies. Why was David persecuted? David was also fulfilling the mission of God. 1 Samuel 17: 45 David said to (Goliath), “… I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty. 46 This day the Lord will deliver you into my hands, and … the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. Yet it was the success of David’s military exploits that led to Saul’s jealousy to persecute him.

Here’s what I learnt. Doing the work of God doesn’t make your life trouble-free. In fact, if your world is corrupt and you challenge it, when you have to fight against the comfortable or the stubborn, doing the work of God is precisely the reason of your ensuing troubles. The more you do, the more opposition you’re going to face. But what should be your response? What can we learn from Psalm 31 and from David? David did not retaliate against Saul. Jesus did not take revenge against the Jewish leaders. Do not be side-tracked by the opposition’s agenda to focus on them. There are many people who started out doing ministry, but in the end spend all their time fighting with others. What happened to the mission of God? You cannot possibly share God’s love if you hate on others all the time. But you might then ask me: what if the persecution is too much to bear? In Psalm 31 I found the answer: Take refuge in God.

Fulfilling the mission of God often comes with opposition, which leads to persecution. When the persecution is too much to bear, David asked for help from God. 3 Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
4 Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
First, you have to be very sure that you are doing the will of God. You have to stay true to the mission by not hating and or feeling resentful. A mission from God is after all, a mission of love. Staying true to the mission means that you can be sure that the persecution you are facing is not really an opposition to you personally, but rather an opposition to God himself. Then your call for refuge in God is genuine. God, I’m doing your work; so, for the sake of your name, lead and guide me. David knew that he bears Saul no wrong, and so, since it is God’s own work, God has to protect him. First, be sure you are doing the will of God, be sure you are still on a mission of love.

Secondly, if you entrust yourself to God, then trust him all the way. David’s words were repeated by Jesus:
5 Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.
8 You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
but have set my feet in a spacious place.
David knows that his life is not in the hands of his enemies, but in God’s own hands. But you might ask, what about Jesus? Did he not die in the hands of the Jewish leaders? What about Stephen, who said the same before he died? (See Acts 7:59) Yes, Jesus and Stephen, and many other Christian martyrs who have prayed this same prayer, and said this very line, have died in doing God’s mission. But they died with their spirits in the hands of God. And we know that they did not die in vain. On Easter Sunday, we declare God’s vindication upon the righteous. Because Jesus lives, I can face tomorrow. (因他活着,我能面对明天。)

Luke 23: 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.”
Looking at Jesus, and his last words on the Cross, I realize this is what it means to live a righteous life.
Life: Live it before Man, Leave it in God’s hands. 生命:活在人面前,交在主手里。
To live a righteous life means to live your life as God’s mission before man. Think constantly about the vision of God for his people, and let your life be a testimony of that vision. But when we do something challenging, there will be many difficulties beyond us. We may ruffle the feathers of those who want things to remain stable and comfortable. The bigger the vision of God, the stronger the opposition will be. The theme for this year’s sermon is about living your life. And we may find that it gets harder the more we align ourselves with God’s vision. Should we give up? Should we retaliate? We may be tempted to do this in order to save our lives, to save us from trouble or to defend ourselves. But Jesus said in Luke 9: 23 “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. We cannot give up or retaliate to live a life different from God’s vision. We want God’s righteousness, not self-righteousness. Our calling is to be God’s faithful servant and live a life worthy of that calling.

Tonight, what I learn from Jesus is simple: We have to live our lives according to God’s word. This is something we have to do before Man. But at the same time, we have to leave our lives in God’s hands. This means that we have to trust God to take care of all the negative opposition. Trusting God may seem like doing nothing, but it is the most important thing we have to do in order to persevere on in God’s mission. Life: Live it before Man, Leave it in God’s hands. These 2 actions go hand in hand. Only when we leave it to God to take care of our lives, then we will have the courage and the freedom to live our lives according to God. Following the word of God and fulfilling his mission doesn’t always mean something as big as saving the world like Jesus. Jesus also did small things with big implications, like eating with sinners, respecting little children and forgiving his enemies. We challenge worldly values when we care for our maids and foreign workers, or when we refuse to join the rat race, whether in work or in school. It’s not a matter of big things or small things, but doing what is right in the eyes of God at the moment when it is necessary, even if it takes sacrifice.[2]

In 1996, there was yet another mass massacre due to gun violence in Australia. The government finally toughened their resolve, and enacted sweeping gun control laws. Because of the major protest at that time, many conservative politicians later lost their seats during reelection. 15 years down the road, someone asked one of them, do you regret your decision? Committing political career suicide with what you did. He replied, we paid a high political price but we did the right thing.[3] Since then, for almost 2 decades, there are no more mass massacres. He asked, How much is a life worth? To me, I saw the courage to live, and also the courage to let go, come what may.

Today we learn from Jesus in Psalm 31, if we do God’s work, and live the life we should live, sometimes you just have to leave all things in God’s hands. Tonight, as we remember Jesus on the Cross, we bear witness to a man who died because he was living according to God’s word. And we are also reminded of his last words. Luke 23: 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Let’s commit our spirits to God, and live a life worth living.

[1] Some time ago, I went to a young adult cell group in my zone. We were doing the cell group material on the life of Jacob. It was about Jacob and his family’s visit to Bethel in Genesis 35. So I asked the cell group, do you remember Jacob’s first time in Bethel? That was in Genesis 28, and there, Jacob struck a bargain with God. If you protect me in my days ahead, I’ll give you 10% of all that I have when I return safely. So I said to the bunch of young people, isn’t that the way we humans deal with the spiritual realm? We pray for God (or gods) to remove bad things from us, or to bless us with good things. We fear the calamities God (or gods) can bring, and we yearn for the divine blessings to make our lives more smooth sailing. Our relationship with God is a bargain. Is that the way God wants us to relate to him?
One of them said, No. God wants his relationship with us to be more than that. It shouldn’t be about fear of retribution or wish for good fortunes. God want a true relationship of knowing him and loving him. So I asked, Why? Why should we know God? Another young adult then said, We should know what are the values of God, so that we know how to partner with him in our own lives. At that moment I was deeply moved. I felt immense pride and comfort. Our younger generation in Jubilee is truly quite alright. So I told Chern Lian, you must be really proud as their cell leader. Because that’s how I felt as their zone pastor. I was reminded of our Lent devotional materials on Isaiah. God does not want this people to be in a relationship of bargaining, just a give and take of benefits, or just a flurry of religious activities. The people of God need to have a vision of God’s ideal community, and then to live accordingly.

[2]Previously, Herod and Pilate had been enemies possibly because they compete for political dominance in the region. But that day they became friends. Even though their top most concern would be the security of their political position, but on that day, there’s one thing they can agree on: that Jesus was no threat to either of them, despite what the Jewish leaders were claiming. Both Herod and Pilate knew that these are just fabricated lies to kill Jesus out of jealousy (see Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10). On that day, Herod and Pilate realized they had a common disdain for these petty insecure Jewish leaders. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. And so on that day, they became friends.

[3] I was really impressed when I read about a local primary school, where teachers are banned from replying to work-related e-mails and texts before 7.30am and after 5pm on weekdays, as well as over the weekend. I don’t know if the principal is a Christian, but giving due rest to those around you is following the word of God. And naturally the opposition came. Teachers took time to adjust. Parents gave “feedback”. If accidents happen or the school results are affected, you can imagine the backlash that could happen. See http://www.tnp.sg/news/singapore/no-texts-and-mails-after-5pm-west-spring-primary-teachers

Psalm 31:1–8 (Listen)

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

31:1   In you, O LORD, do I take refuge;
    let me never be put to shame;
    in your righteousness deliver me!
  Incline your ear to me;
    rescue me speedily!
  Be a rock of refuge for me,
    a strong fortress to save me!
  For you are my rock and my fortress;
    and for your name's sake you lead me and guide me;
  you take me out of the net they have hidden for me,
    for you are my refuge.
  Into your hand I commit my spirit;
    you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
  I hate those who pay regard to worthless idols,
    but I trust in the LORD.
  I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love,
    because you have seen my affliction;
    you have known the distress of my soul,
  and you have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
    you have set my feet in a broad place.

(ESV)