Opening the Door to Psalm 119, Part 18



The most awful realization is that one can never be good enough for God. It is also the most wonderful. No accumulation of good deeds could ever outweigh the sins we’ve committed or earn us eternal life, but then again, it doesn’t need to.

“The gospel,” explains theologian Tim Keller, “is, you’re more sinful than you ever dared believe, but you’re more loved and accepted in Christ than you ever dared hope.”

So in ‘Ayin’—the sixteenth stanza of Psalm 119—as the psalmist opens with the apparent corollary: “I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors”, we must be careful not to make a faulty assumption. The psalmist is not saying that he has an inherent goodness, which has put God in debt to him to make his life easy. Rather, the psalmist knows of an ancient pronouncement made by God regarding humanity—a presage that hinted of a distant future: In order for anyone to truly flourish in full and joyful relationship with God, a certain Someone must and would come to “crush the head” of evil. Only then would the proper relationship between God and people be restored, would rebellion and its consequences be vanquished, and would love overrule law. Not surprisingly, the psalmist builds the remainder of his stanza around the theme of the loving Master-servant relationship. Listen.

“I have done what is righteous and just; do not leave me to my oppressors. / Ensure your servant’s well-being; let not the arrogant oppress me. / My eyes fail, looking for your salvation, looking for your righteous promise. / Deal with your servant according to your love and teach me your decrees. / I am your servant; give me discernment that I may understand your statutes. / It is time for you to act, O LORD; your law is being broken. / Because I love your commands more than gold, more than pure gold, and because I consider all your precepts right, I hate every wrong path.”

We need to consider our reaction to the psalmist’s three-fold use of the term “servant”. Virtually every human based master-servant relationship to ever have occurred in history has been painfully flawed: masters have abused their power causing much suffering; servants have resented their masters’ power, secretly trying to undermine it. It has been a lose-lose situation.

But imagine a Master whose character is noble and perfectly good, who is loving and generous and just. Imagine a Master whose goal is to empower His servants to steward tremendous resources put into their care. Imagine a Master who shares with His servants the fruit of all His labours and who helps them find greater freedom within their servanthood than they could ever experience in their rebellion. Imagine a Master who became human to “ma(k)e himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant…and who…humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:7,8). This is the Master-servant relationship the psalmist catches a glimpse of in his psalm.

The psalmist hints at this relationship because he–writer in the second millenium B.C.– occupies a place in history well before the arrival of Jesus, the Master-incarnated-as-servant. He is yet “looking for (the One who would be his) salvation.” But leaf forward through the pages of Scripture to the Gospel of John, and we hear Jesus speaking to His disciples on the night before His crucifixion.

“You call me Teacher and ‘Lord’, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:13,14).

Jesus claims to be the Lord God, the eternal Master of humanity, calling loving hearts to be His servants, recipients of His love, to even become transformed individuals. And how must they demonstrate this new role? Like their Master, they must serve others with humility and love; they must demonstrate their new life to the Master who took the sting out of death by bearing the spiritual death penalty Himself in His crucifixion. They must fix their hope on the eternity their Master Jesus has prepared for them—an eternity of productive, fulfilling, beloved servanthood.

So while it is natural to call upon God to interrupt the oppression and injustice we suffer at times, it is important we recognize God’s greatest act of justice in the history of humankind—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His death has made impotent the power of evil. His resurrection has given His followers new lives that will eventually be characterized perfectly by Christ’s own character.

Let’s join the psalmist in looking to God’s salvation, His righteous promise: Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, whose perfect goodness is credited to our account as we entrust ourselves to Him.


Thirty-one Ordinary Prayers, #9

Prayer of a Servant (Paraphrasing Psalm 123)

I’m thinking of Your right to rule, God. My mind’s eye is looking through the heavens and catching Isaiah’s glimpse of You enthroned as King of Kings. This upward-looking attitude is a ready reminder that You are the Sovereign Ruler of this universe, and I am a creation of Yours. It is right that Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

As a creature before her Creator, as a servant before her Master, and as a child before her Father I come to You asking for Your mercy; this world that I live in has gone crazy. Everywhere I look in this culture around me—even in myself—I see evidences of pride and arrogance, foolish ‘wisdom’, impatience and contempt.

Please protect me from these negative and destructive attitudes. I’d rather have a servant’s heart than see myself become like the godless—rebellious against Your right to rule, proud and angry, lost, wounded and dangerous. Rejecting You is a slow soul suffocation, minds dulled to the horror of an eternity without You.

Have mercy on us, Lord. Protect us from that influence. Keep us always looking upward, aware of Your all-encompassing presence, breathing You like air, knowing You as our great and merciful God.

Twenty-eight Days with Jesus, Day 26



For drama, the 26th chapter of Matthew’s gospel has no equal: A last supper with a ragtag crew of twelve unable to understand their Master’s deep forewarnings; a sleepy midnight vigil in an olive garden; the Master’s struggle in prayer, sweating great drops of blood; betrayal with a kiss, vicious swordplay and a healing; a general desertion by fearful followers, a kangaroo court; a conviction; a disowning, and a rooster’s fateful crow.

There is no story like it. Narration of the angst and anger, the deceit and despair that the characters portray gives us a glimpse into the significance of this pivotal moment in earth’s history. Her only perfect son, fully God and fully man, performs the redeeming act required by His own perfect sense of justice to correct a race’s rebellion against its Maker.

“He is worthy of death,” the members of the Jewish supreme court of ancient Jerusalem pronounced. Their judgment was the product of greed and jealousy, of anger and ignorance and fear. Silent as a sheep before her shearers Jesus accepted the verdict without a word. Why?

The earlier scene in the olive garden provides us with the answer. Jesus’ struggle was never with human power or authority. In the garden before the mob ever arrived, we glimpse him wrestling in prayer in order to submit to His heavenly Father’s will that He be the scapegoat for humanity. “Not as I will, but as you will,” he conceded in the greatest mystery we humans will ever ponder. God the Son willingly agrees to pay your and my moral debt by suffering God the Father’s wrath against our rebellion. But was Jesus worthy of death as the Jewish council claimed? Heaven’s inhabitants claim He is worthy, but not of death.

The closing book of the Bible, known as Revelation, reveals a glimpse of the heavenly splendor to be seen one day by every eye—yours and mine included. John, the scribe of Revelation writes, “Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. In a loud voice they sang: Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise! Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!” (Rev. 5:11-13).

The characters of that world by the thousands and millions voice their judgment of this same Jesus, Son of God, redeemer of all people who accept His gift. Did you notice what they describe Him worthy of?

He is worthy of all creatures’ bursting and overflowing song-filled worship—awestruck wonder and praise. For how long? For ever and ever. And why? Because He who was perfectly pure and right, who has existed for eternity in joyful community with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit, became one of us, precisely to submit Himself to the Father’s will which was that He bear the death you and I deserve.

The angels claim He is worthy, not of death but of eternal worship.

Our choice, yours and mine—while we have that moment of choice here on this earth—is to claim one or the other. Do we discount Him, ignore Him or desert Him? In effect we are pronouncing Him worthy of death. Or do we, regardless of the struggle, hold Him in highest honour, following in His footsteps, seeking the Father’s will? That is pronouncing Him worthy of honour and praise.

Read Matthew Chapter 26 again for yourself. As we prayerfully consider the final hours of His amazing earthly life—we will discover new ways He speaks to us through His ancient and moving story. He is worthy.