Open Your Mouth

(Psalm 81)

I was in Colorado these last two weeks visiting churches that support our ministry here: you have a hearty “hello” from our brothers and sisters at The Well in Boulder, at Park Church in Denver, and at Missio Dei in Falcon. I talked to a lot of people this week—both pastors and laypeople—about ministry, about their lives, about the gospel. And one thing the pastors in particular said, which I could relate to, was the very real struggle of simply getting people to understand the gospel.

One of the most surprising things I discovered in my time as pastor of this church is that you can never assume anyone actually understands the gospel. They may understand the mechanics of it—what Jesus did when he came to earth, lived, died, and was raised—without understanding its effect on their day-to-day lives.

There’s something in every Christian, no matter how good our theology is, that makes us want to try and work as hard as we can to do what we need to do, in order to get into God’s good graces. We work hard to try to be morally righteous enough for God to want to save us. We do our best to be “good Christians,” to get Jesus’s attention, so that he might just love us and keep on loving us.

This is our natural mode of thought: when we discover what the gospel actually is, we naturally think, What do I have to do for God to choose to show ME grace?  It’s the same question the jailer asked Paul and Silas in Acts 16.30: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

Their answer is beautiful—v. 31:  

“BELIEVE in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...”

Today we’re going to be in Psalm 81—so I’ll invite you to turn there with me. In this psalm we see a beautiful application and illustration of this same answer the apostles gave so many years later. In this psalm, the psalmist Asaph not only tells us what to believe—long before Christ—but how to go about it. And as so often happens in the Bible, the answer is wildly different from what we would expect.

This psalm is actually very similar to many of the oracles of the Old Testament prophets. The OT prophets’ main function was not to predict the future, but rather to call God’s people to covenant faithfulness (which is very clearly the point of this psalm). And the first way in which the psalm calls God’s people to faithfulness is by describing God’s faithfulness to them.

god's Faithfulness (v. 1-7)

To the choirmaster: according to The Gittith. Of Asaph.*

1 Sing aloud to God our strength; 

shout for joy to the God of Jacob! 

2 Raise a song; sound the tambourine, 

the sweet lyre with the harp. 

3 Blow the trumpet at the new moon, 

at the full moon, on our feast day. 

NOTE: The English Standard Version, like most English translations, do not attribute a verse number to the introductions of the Psalms. The French Segond 21, like most French translations, count this introduction as v. 1. Consequently, if you're following along with us today, every subsequent verse in French will be one number higher than the English. (Verse 1 in the ESV—"Sing aloud to God our strength..."—will be verse 2 in the S21, etc.)

Asaph begins his psalm by reminding Israel of the feasts they keep—Blow the trumpet at the new moon, at the full moon, on our feast day. He calls on Israel to worship God with joy during the feasts.

There were a lot of feasts for the people of Israel in the Old Testament, and every one of these feasts reminded the people of God’s past and present grace to them, and actually foreshadowed what Jesus would do when he came.

So Asaph begins his psalm by reminding the people of the feasts they kept, which would very naturally remind them of God’s goodness and grace to them.

Next, he reminds them of the various ways God had been good to them in the past, v. 4.

4 For it is a statute for Israel, 

a rule of the God of Jacob. 

5 He made it a decree in Joseph

when he went out over the land of Egypt. 

I hear a language I had not known: 

6 “I relieved your shoulder of the burden; 

your hands were freed from the basket. 

7 In distress you called, and I delivered you; 

I answered you in the secret place of thunder; 

I tested you at the waters of Meribah. Selah

This word “Selah” marks a pause. It’s a moment in the psalm—possibly an instrumental break—in which the people are meant to stop and think about what had just been said. 

And here’s what they’re meant to reflect on: God has always been faithful to his people. He rescued them from slavery in Egypt when they had no other hope of being rescued. He delivered them when they were in danger. He provided for their needs in the desert. Every time, in every need, God was always there, protecting them and providing for them.

The conclusion the people are meant to reach is obvious: if God is this kind of God—a God who is always faithful to his people—then his people should trust him, and love him, and obey him.

god's Grace (v. 8-10)

8 Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! 

O Israel, if you would but listen to me! 

9 There shall be no strange god among you; 

you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 

This is a simple repetition of the first of the Ten Commandments—the people of Israel were to worship one God, and one God only

This is where our all-inclusive, modern culture often gets stuck.

Have you ever wondered why the God of the Bible demands allegiance of his people? A lot of people have a hard time with this particular part of the Bible: they see God saying things like, “Worship me only; praise me only; serve me only,” and they think, Wow! God sure is self-centered! 

It’s important to remember that what would be sin for us is not necessarily sin for God. If we demanded that kind of allegiance and loyalty, that would be narcissism, because no human being actually deserves that kind of attention.

But here’s the difference: the Bible tells us what kind of God he is. Firstly, because he is morally perfect, he actually deserves our loyalty and love. But that’s not all.

Think of the most egocentric ruler you can imagine. (I’ll make no comments about the current American president; I doubt I need to.) Imagine this ruler demanded the same kind of allegiance from the people in his nation as God demands of his people. What would more than likely be this human ruler’s motivation for demanding that kind of loyalty? 

Probably, to serve himself. To serve his own need for praise and love.

That’s not how God works. He doesn’t need our praise—his motivations for demanding our worship are far better than anyone would expect.

God speaks prophetically through the psalmist here, and he tells us precisely what kind of a God he is, and why he demands our worship. V. 9 again:

9 There shall be no strange god among you; 

you shall not bow down to a foreign god. 

10 I am the Lord your God, 

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.

If you are in the habit of highlighting or underlining in your Bible, there should be great big loops and circles and lines and colors all over verse 10.

You see, God does not call his people to worship him in order to be served by them, or to fill some need in himself. 

He calls his people to worship him so that HE might serve THEM.

He created us to be satisfied by his glory; so if he demanded anything else but that we worship him alone, he would not be loving us well. But because he loves us, he orders us to do the one and only thing which can satisfy us forever: to worship him alone.

Although he has need or obligation to do it, God actually takes this commandment to worship him alone, spins it around, and turns it into a gift for those who obey.

Isn’t this different from the way we usually think about worship? If you have ever had the opportunity to lead worship in a church in the past, you’ve probably had this experience. The worship team meets before the service to go over the songs, and to talk about what they’re doing. And either before or during the service, someone will pray, and will say something like, “Father, we’re not here for ourselves. We’re here for you. We’re here to serve you. We’re not here to receive anything from you, but to give you what you deserve.”

This kind of prayer has become so common in church culture that we think nothing of it—and while it comes from a good sentiment, it’s totally unbiblical. 

That’s the way normal, human rulers function: they demand allegiance to serve themselves. But that’s not how God demands worship of his people. He says, “Come to me, and worship me, SO THAT I MIGHT FEED YOU. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

As the author of the letter to the Hebrews says (Hebrews 11.6):  

 And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he REWARDS those who seek him. 

If we want to please God, we must first and foremost come to him to be fed by him. This is the kind of God we serve. And yet, his people have always resisted his grace.

The People's Rebellion (v. 11-13)

11 “But my people did not listen to my voice; 

Israel would not submit to me. 

12 So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts, 

to follow their own counsels. 

13 Oh, that my people would listen to me, 

that Israel would walk in my ways! 

Our stubborn hearts refuse God at every turn—they assume God is not good, and he is not calling us to himself for our good. 

We’re like children who refuse to eat their vegetables, and who assume their parents are mean for making them do it. Kids don’t have the wisdom to see that the vitamins in vegetables, the things they need to be healthy and to survive, are worth getting, through any means necessary; and they don’t have taste developed enough to recognize that vegetables are actually delicious. 

That’s what we’re like. God tells us what to do, and we hear his commandments, and imagine they are trying to stifle our joy, to stop us from “being ourselves” (as if that would actually be better!). 

We trust the desires of our own heart above all things, and we don’t realize that our hearts are stubborn and twisted, and if we give them what they want, they will starve us. 

So you can hear the longing in God’s voice as he says, Oh, that my people would listen to me, that Israel would walk in my ways! Why does he want his people to listen to him? Why does he want Israel to walk in his ways?

Because he wants them to be happy.

The Gospel: “Be Satisfied in Me” (v. 14-16)

14 I would soon subdue their enemies

and turn my hand against their foes. 

15 Those who hate the Lord would cringe toward him, 

and their fate would last forever. 

16 But he would feed you with the finest of the wheat, 

and with honey from the rock I would SATISFY you.” 

There’s a sermon by C. J. Mahaney that I love called “A Biblical Understanding of Sleep,” in which he basically pleads for us to see going to bed every night as an act of worship, because that’s the one time during the day when we really can do nothing for ourselves. We’re totally helpless during that time. We don’t work; we can’t make any effort toward anything good; while we are asleep, we are completely dependent on God to provide for us and to protect us. (The idea of course is that's what happens all the time; we're just less aware of it.)

That’s what the psalmist is getting at here: that’s what the gospel is. The gospel is not bringing God what we have to offer; it is not working to improve our situation with him. It is coming to God empty-handed, recognizing our total dependence on him, and saying, “I have nothing to bring: nothing that would be pleasing to you, nothing that would be useful to you. I need you—it’s not the other way round.”

Jesus says something remarkably similar in Matthew 11. 

Matthew 11.25-30:

25 At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; 26 yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. 27 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. 

Imagine for a minute that you’ve never read this passage, that you’re just listening to Jesus talk, and you don’t know what’s coming next. (That may actually be the case for some of you.)

First Jesus gives us this unsettling news: "You can do nothing on your own.  You can’t know the Father, or come near the Father, or humble yourself before the Father, unless I choose to reveal him to you. This is out of your hands. You can work as hard as you’d like, you will never be able to work hard enough to get in good with God.”

And then he says something that—if we didn’t know it was coming—would be just about the most shocking thing he could say.

He says (v. 28):

28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you REST. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” 

In other words, “You can’t do any of this without me…and you don’t have to. I’m not calling you to come and do anything—I’m calling you to come and rest, to know that you can’t do anything to earn my grace…so stop trying.”

I was eating dinner with a couple of elders from Park Church in Denver last week, and sharing with them that this year has been a difficult one for me personally; there have been some pastoral cases that have weighed on me, plus just the usual fatigue that comes with having a new baby at home.

One of those elders, a wonderful man named Gary McQuinn, modeled the gospel for me in that conversation we had. At one point as I was sharing this, he thanked me for being honest, and he said, “I just want you to know that you don’t ever have to try and give us the impression that you’ve got it all together. You don’t have to be doing well. We are here, and we’ll support you even if you’re totally falling apart. We’re not going anywhere.”

Brothers and sisters, in this psalm, God is telling us the same thing.

The gospel is rest. The gospel is coming to God to be fed.

The gospel is not for those who work; it is for those who are tired of working.

It’s not for the strong; it’s for those who have no more strength.

It’s not for those who provide; it’s for those who are hungry, and who can’t fill their hunger.

It’s not for the moral or the righteous; it’s for those who need righteousness but can’t drum it up on their own.

Few things could be more difficult for modern, educated, cultured, self-sufficient people to accept—they don’t know what to do when someone tells them that they have nothing to do, because Jesus did it all for them.

And part of it is the very real fact that it shouldn’t work this way: if God really is holy, and we really are accountable to him, then we shouldn’t be able to just come rest—we should have to work to make up for our mistakes, to earn his favor, to (as they say in Alcoholic Anonymous) "make amends."

So how can God possibly make such a statement? How can he say, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it”? How can Jesus say, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”?

The answer to that question is the reason why the gospel is “good news”—because the gospel tells us that whatever God requires for us to belong to him and be saved by him and be fed by him, Jesus has already done for us.

He lived the life we should have lived—the humble, gracious, holy life God commands us all to live, and which none of us have. 

He took on himself the sin of our arrogance and pride, our rejection of God, our so-called and imaginary self-sufficiency, and was killed for those sins. 

He gave us his perfect life in exchange for our sin, and on the basis of Christ’s perfect life which was given to us—like a coat we put on and wear from here on out—God has declared us as righteous as Christ.

So when we come to Christ in faith, he finally tells us the words we’ve been wanting to hear our whole lives, without even being aware of it: there truly is nothing left to do. There is nothing we can do to make God love us any more—he already loves with an infinite love. There’s nothing we can bring to the table to add to what he has already done. When Jesus said  “It is finished” on the cross, he meant it.

It is FINISHED.

Now the logical question at this point is, “If that’s true, what about obedience? What do we do with God’s commandments if Jesus has already obeyed them for us?”

So many people see what I’ve just said—an absolute affirmation of God’s grace being totally sufficient for us—as the enemy of obedience, but it’s the exact opposite: God’s absolute, all-sufficient grace is the only thing that makes our obedience possible.

God knows that the only lasting motivation for obedience is grace. 

Loanne and I have been blessed to get to know a couple named Jeff and Jill Otero. They’ve been here to visit us several times. Jeff and Jill are two of the most gracious people I have ever met. I have never seen them act out of self-interest; they are always thinking of others, and how they can serve others. 

And I realized recently that something has happened to me over the time I’ve spent with them. When I spend time with Jeff, I find myself observing him. I listen to how he talks to his wife. I listen to how he talks about his church. I watch how he serves others.

And because I admire him and I’m thankful for him, I find myself wanting to be like him, wanting to model my own life after his.

This is as natural as breathing, and it happens every time we are in the presence of grace, and truly see it for what it is.

God has given us free and perfect access to himself in the finished work of Jesus Christ. And as we live with him, as we walk with him, as we grow with him, as we continue to understand more and more what he did for us in Christ, we WILL want to be like him.

As we grow to know Christ, we will want to be like him. We will begin to love what he loves and hate what he hates. We’ll find holiness pleasant, and sin repulsive.

And that is how when God calls us to obey, he describes that experience by saying, “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.” That is how Jesus can say, "My yoke is EASY and my burden is LIGHT."

Quite simply, it’s not hard to do what you want to do. 

It’s one thing to work hard because you know you’ll be sanctioned or fired if you don’t. 

It’s quite another thing to work hard because you LOVE your job. 

The person who loves his job looks forward to going to work every day; he has no trouble going the extra mile to finish something that needs finishing. 

For the person who loves their job and is motivated by a passion for their profession, work is rest—work feeds their passion, feeds their joy, feeds their happiness.

This Christian knows from experience that obedience brings joy, because it allows us to know God more deeply and delight in him more fully, with a clean conscience. When we understand the grace of Christ, and we begin to love what he loves—because what he loves is actually worth loving—the work of obedience isn’t just light; it’s refreshing. 

Nothing is more satisfying than wanting the right thing, and then doing exactly what you want.

Conclusion

Make no mistake—we are all hungry. We all want something. And this psalm is asking each of us a question: 

What is it you want, and how is Jesus better? What are you hungry for, and how can God fill you better?

Maybe you want God’s affection. Maybe you believe that God will save you, but that ultimately, he’s not all that happy about it, because he sees you as you really are: he sees your sin and your guilt and your failures, and the only reason he’s saving you is because he said he would.

So you work as hard as you can to do what he calls you to do, to earn your way back into his love and his good graces.

And you’re always exhausted, and you’re always thirsty for more, because no matter how hard you work, it never seems to be good enough.

Jesus is better than that. God has always loved his people perfectly—the only reason we received his wrath instead of his love is because we sinned against him. And Jesus took that sin on himself on the cross. 

It’s not that God wasn’t angry against your sin; he was. And he poured out every drop of wrath against your sin when he poured out his wrath on Christ on the cross. So if you have faith in him today, there is no more wrath for you. There is nothing left for you to do. All you have is the perfect love of a perfect Father for you, his child—imperfect, yes, but declared perfect in Christ. There is nothing you could do to make his love for you any better, or any worse.

So he is inviting you to come and be filled—be filled by his grace, be filled by the blessing of obedience to his commands, be filled by a knowledge of him that grows deeper and deeper as you receive from his hand.

Maybe you want freedom. Maybe you see any rule given to you as a hindrance to your joy. Maybe you really want to believe that you are a beautiful and unique snowflake, and you are perfect just the way you are.

But you know deep down that you’re not. You’re missing something. You aren’t complete; you aren’t perfect. You want to be free from any and all rules, but the freedom you crave is starving you. 

The freedom Jesus offers is better than the freedom you think you want. 

Jesus is honest with you and tells you that you aren’t perfect; you do need something outside yourself to make you more than you are. And the one thing that actually could satisfy you—the thing you were created to do, seeing and loving the glory of God—is out of your reach, because you are a sinner, and you have fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3.23). 

So Jesus took care of that sin for you. He suffered the punishment for that sin in your place, so that you wouldn’t have to. He has done what needed to be done for you to finally see what you were created to see, and to be satisfied by what you were created to enjoy. To anyone who comes to Jesus in faith, he gives a new heart, with new desires. 

To put it simply, Christian freedom is not the freedom to do whatever you please; it’s the freedom to finally want desire you ought to desire.

So if you want freedom, come to him and be free—it’s the only freedom which actually is freedom.

There are a million different things we may desire today. Whatever it is you want, whether it's good or bad, Jesus is better. 

The Austin Stone Community Church wrote a great song, during which they sing:

In all my sorrows, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

In all my victories, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

Than any comfort, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

More than all riches, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

Our souls declaring, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

Our song eternal, Jesus is better – make my heart believe !

God's call to you through this psalm is to know that Jesus is better: to let go of everything you think you have to offer and to come to him empty-handed, knowing that there is nothing left for you to do, nothing you can bring him, but that everything is already done for you, and everything is already given to you.

10 I am the Lord your God, 

who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. 

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.