English service - September 18, 2022
Messenger: Pastor Jim Allison
Finding God’s Faithfulness in Our Worship
We are in the message series, “God’s Unwitting Witnesses.” Last month we learned how God shows Himself faithful to keep His promises as His people serve Him—for example by bringing two donkeys to Jesus. He would ride them in His coronation parade, entering Jerusalem as the King that God had sent to lead His people.
Today’s story comes almost right after that one. Naturally, the King goes first to His “palace,” His home, God’s house, the Temple. There something happens that Jesus uses to teach us about praise. In this episode we are taught that we can find God’s faithfulness in our worship. Another prophecy made long ago is fulfilled here. We learn that our praise is in fact one way that God fulfills prophecy. That may not be something we think about often, but I am confident that when we look at it carefully, we will find something valuable there. Let’s walk together through the story step by step and see what we can discover.
An account of Jesus’ entering Jerusalem on a donkey is in all four gospels, but this part of Holy Week only appears in Matthew. After Jesus gets angry at the way people are misusing religion for their personal gain and turns over the tables of the people doing business there, we read in v. 14: “Blind people and those who were disabled came to Jesus at the temple. There he healed them.” These special needs individuals could not come to Him unless someone helped them, could they. So there is something happening that God teaches His people to value. There is a faith community in action. When that is the case, good things come from it. Reasons to praise God grow out of that. In this case, it’s recovered sight and ability to walk. Who could put a price tag on gifts like that? Praise is the natural and truly appropriate response to God’s work of restoring health.
Here we see something important about our worship, which we gather for each week. We can praise Him by singing or speaking—with words. But we also praise God through serving Him, for example by bringing to worship someone who has difficulty coming alone. That action can be a form of praise, saying in visual form that our Lord is worth spending our time and energy to honor. If we offer our thanksgiving and praise like this from a sincere heart, God is deeply happy to receive them, He says. They reflect the way Jesus Himself honored God through His words (praise, prayer, and teaching). Mark, Luke, and John tell us that Jesus spent time teaching in the Temple the last week before His death. But He wasn’t all talk (different from us as humans so often). He demonstrated His message of God’s life-giving love through His acts, particularly healing people physically. Is there someone who could come to greater health and the knowledge that God loves him/her if you would help that person? Who might it be?
Christ's healing people in the Temple was a real answer to the question that people were asking when He entered the city on a donkey: “Who is this?” Do you remember that? His actions of leading people to wellbeing and wholeness show a big part of who He is. Also, His amazing works of healing fulfill the promise God made in Haggai 2:9. “‘The new temple will be more beautiful than the first one was,’ says the Lord. ‘And in this place I will give peace to my people,’ announces the LORD who rules over all.” The old Temple, the building, is great, but Jesus says that His own body is God’s home, the Temple. And God wants to make our bodies His home, too. That’s even better.
Continuing, in v. 15 we read about the “children in the temple area shouting, ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” When I was a boy in elementary school, on Wednesday afternoons after school, a bus from our church would come and pick up all the kids whose parents sent us there. In my grade, about 10 or 12 kids would go and learn some songs that our Minister of Music would teach us. I had no particular interest in singing—or ability. But my parents told me to go, that’s where my friends were, and I did like the songs pretty much. Plus, after choir practice, we would go to a church dinner (chili or spaghetti), then kids’ classes with games and (some) learning while the adults were in prayer meeting. That was our Wednesday night routine. Then maybe once a year, each of the kids’ choirs would have a time in Sunday night worship when we would sing the songs we had been practicing.
I was terrified of singing in public. So I mastered the technique of singing just enough softer than everyone around me that no one could hear me clearly, but those watching would see my mouth moving. I think I was a little frustrating for our choir director to teach.
Yet not everyone was so shy. I can never forget the night when a boy named Todd, probably about five years old and a few younger than I was, “sang” in our graded choir music program. Nervousness, restraint, shyness, things like that were simply not there in his heart or mind that evening, though everyone else in his group was overcome with them. So when the song began, he let loose a sound like I had never heard before and maybe no one has since. It was huge—I’m sure anyone sitting in the back row of the upstairs balcony heard every word loud and clear. Imagine “Jesus loves me, this I know” or something like that shouted at full volume. It was not something I could really call music. “Yelling” is much closer to accurate. The listeners were all pretty shocked, and some of us could not stop laughing. But it was a memorable event. Todd had “made a joyful noise to the Lord,” as the Bible calls it (Psalm 100:1). And I’m guessing that God, listening to his voice, absolutely loved it. I suspect He enjoyed the simple, honest, and uncluttered spirit Todd had as he sang.
When I read about the children shouting “Hosanna” in the Temple, I think, “What does God hear coming from my heart, our hearts, each Sunday as we sing our praise to Him?” I pray that He is pleased with it and accepts it as genuine worship.
Come to think of it, why were the children in the Temple that day? Maybe they were playing there. If so, would God feel bad about it? I suppose He would want them to enjoy being in His house but would want them to do that in a respectful way. If some people acted like it was fine to do business in the Temple, the kids may have had no sense that running around and shouting wildly could be a problem. Or maybe their parents brought them there to worship as a family. The children may not have understood its meaning very much yet, but they were learning. The kids may also have followed Jesus there, along with the adults, after hearing them saying the words “Hosanna to the Son of David!” as Jesus’ “parade” passed by. After all, children say (and sing) what they hear from people around them. We adults need to take that as a reminder to set examples for them of praise that comes from honest, faithful hearts.
It is not strange or rare for children to say “Hosanna” in Bible times. There is a custom for them to do that at the Feast of Tabernacles while shaking a bundle of tree branches. But this is a different holiday, the Passover, and they are not crying “Hosanna” to God alone but to Jesus as the “Son of David”—in other words, as the Messiah, or Son of God. That’s not “normal.” It’s what gets the religious leaders upset. We are going to see in a few minutes how the words of the children in the Temple fulfill an Old Testament prophecy. That has great meaning, Matthew reminds us, but let’s not forget one thing. The children no doubt have learned the words they are using from the adults there who have been saying the same thing. So the praise from adults is also a necessary part of God’s work of keeping the promise He made in the Bible so long before. God uses the whole process of community worship to demonstrate His faithfulness and control over the events of life.
Your worship here from week to week in this family of faith matters. It is easy to forget and take for granted. It is not something you see with your eyes or count in numbers. But it shapes you and helps form the people around you, as well. When you give sincere, heart-felt praise to God, it sets a direction of growth for your life and determines the power you will rely on to make that growth possible. That cannot help but have an impact on the people around you. God will bless it, in His time and way. He will use each one’s faith to encourage and support and strengthen the hearts of others who continue on the journey of following Christ week to week, month to month, year to year, in the Open Door Chapel community.
Let’s look closer at “Hosanna to the Son of David.” First, “Son of David.” Faithful Jewish people know the promise that God made to King David (II Samuel 7:16), “Your royal house and your kingdom will last forever in my sight. Your throne will last forever.” They believe that God will send a Savior to set them free. They understand that to mean particularly political, military, and economic freedom from the Romans who control them. If Roman soldiers happen to hear children shouting that the Messiah is there with them now, there could be trouble, and the religious leaders are no doubt very sensitive about this.
Second, “Hosanna.” It means, in effect, “Save us.” And, of course, you say that to someone you believe is able to save you. So it has the nuance of “Praise you” or “You are great!” There is a spiritual question for us, then. To whom do you turn when you’re in trouble and know you need to be saved?
Here is a strange story. Maybe someone has heard it before.
A Buddhist, a Muslim, and a Christian all jump off a 100-floor building to prove that their faith can save them.
The Buddhist jumps first. As he’s falling, he says, “Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha.” Sure enough, about halfway down, he magically starts slowing down and gently lands on the sidewalk. “Thank you, Buddha,” he says in tears.
The Muslim is next. He jumps and starts chanting, “Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah, Allah.” He goes straight to the sidewalk at high speed, hits it, and splatters everywhere. His family is there to watch, and they cry tears of joy, hugging each other, so happy that he's in paradise now.
Lastly, we have the Christian. He opens his Bible and reads a few verses to prepare his heart. Then he jumps and starts chanting, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha.”
Now, remember, I told you it was a strange story. For one thing, putting God to the test by jumping off a building and asking Him to save you is something Jesus very clearly refused to do in a famous Bible story (Luke 4:9-13). So for one of His followers to do exactly that, what the devil tempted Jesus to do, makes no sense. The story is strange on a variety of levels. But it has an important point. Can you see it? Whoever it is that you trust to save you when you are in trouble, that is the one you really believe in, no matter what you may say at other times. It is one thing for us to call ourselves Christians, but it is a different matter to make the choice to put ourselves in His hands, moment by moment, day by day. When we sing, “Hosanna” or “Praise God” or “I worship you, Almighty God,” that is what we are doing—recognizing His greatness and, as an act of faith, asking Him to guide and empower our lives.
The religious leaders hear the children’s words, and they are not happy. They see a chance to criticize Jesus (v. 16). “Do you hear what these children are saying?” they ask him. Of course, it’s not a problem of whether Jesus hears them or not. The chief priests and teachers of the law think that if He does hear them, and understand, He should tell them not to do that. He should somehow make it clear that He is not the Messiah, the Christ. These men have already decided that He is not.
In Luke’s version of this story (19:39-40), when the disciples are saying basically the same thing as the children are here in Matthew 21, some Pharisees say to Jesus, “Teacher, tell your disciples to stop!” He doesn’t because He is committed to teaching the truth, and He is the Messiah. So He answers, “I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.” For the world to work as it was designed, God has to be praised. That’s a basic and vital reality of our lives. Some may refuse, but in the end, it will happen. God’s glory is a lot like gravity in that way. You can deny it if you want. You can even jump off a roof to prove you are right. But in the end, gravity will win.
Returning to Matthew 21, Jesus answers the religious leaders that, of course, He can hear the children. Then He turns a question toward them. “Haven't you ever read about it in Scripture? It says, “‘You have made sure that children and infants praise you.’” These are chief priests and teachers of the law. They are people who spend a lot of time in that Temple in activities that are supposed to be all about praising and honoring God. Yet now when the greatest reason for praising God is standing in front of them, they resist and even try to stop Him. They have studied the Bible for many years in getting to the places they are in the religious organization. But somehow all that formal learning has not brought them closer to God, it seems. It has not made them more loving and faithful people. Here they are refusing the greatest knowledge the Lord has ever offered them—how to receive salvation through His Son, Jesus.
Some of us work in the field of education, and all of us here have gone through the educational system. This story raises some big questions to us. They are not only how much training you have received or how many years you have gone to school. But what impact is your education having on your life as a whole? What kind of person has it led you to become? Are you using it in ways that raise you and others to a higher place and truly enrich your life and theirs?
The religious leaders show that it is possible to use your education as a weapon to attack others. You can use it as a tool to build bridges to others, or you can use the same tool to raise walls between you and them. You can use your learning as a way to go to wherever people are and stand with them, or you can use it as a way to put yourself above them in your mind and look down on them. You may gain great learning as a way to understand God and His world more deeply. In fact, many of the great schools around the world were built to help people do exactly that. But it’s also possible for us to set aside that purpose and through our learning actually move away from God, reject faith in Him, or actively set ourselves against Him. Not everything students are taught in schools today will lead them to a wholesome, accurate knowledge of the world as it is, sad to say. Politics, personal values of teachers, and trends in society can impact education powerfully, and not necessarily in a good way. In the many arguments held on social media, for example, you may hear someone say, “You must have gone to school for a long time to become that stupid.” Those are fighting words, of course, and we generally will make more trouble with people if we use them. But they seem to have some of the same nuance as Jesus’ words to the religious leaders.
Next, “You have made sure that children and infants praise you.” That’s how Matthew reports Jesus as quoting Psalm 8:2, and that’s how it reads in the English version I usually use for messages at Open Door (NIRV). But there are some interesting things happening with the words He chooses.
For one, he stops part way through the verse He is quoting. Psalm 8:2 reads (NIRV), “You have made sure that children and infants praise you. You have done it because of your enemies. You have done it to put a stop to their talk.” Jesus recalls for the religious leaders the first part of the verse, but they know the rest of it. It talks about God’s enemies and says that He uses children and infants’ praise as a way to make them be quiet (to stop their foolish talk). These priests and teachers can see, no doubt, that Jesus is suggesting they are enemies of God. The way they are acting shows it. Christ’s words may be indirect, but these men surely know what He means, and they don’t like it.
And there are a couple of other questions about the wording here. First, though the NIRV says God has made sure that infants and children praise Him, when you go to the Old Testament version of those words (Psalm 8:2), most translations don’t use the word praise. They use a noun, strength, as the Shinkaiyaku we use has it 力 (chikara). One uses stronghold (NIV), one bulwark (NRSV), and three of the most-used Japanese translations say 砦(toride) .
And what has God done with this strength, or praise, or whatever it is? Our NIRV says He has made sure that children and infants give it to Him. But several other major translations say that He has prepared it, and others that He has perfected it, made it complete, arranged it, called it forth, or ordained it. Besides our Shinkaiyaku’s 用意された, other major Japanese translations say 整えられた、歌わせた、and 備えられた.
With all those possible translations, it may just seem confusing. But there are some helpful things about God to see here. One thing that is happening seems to be about the version of the Old Testament that Matthew used when he wrote his gospel. It seems he was using the Greek translation of it, called the Septuagint. In it, Psalm 8:2 (actually 8:3 in its ordering) says that God has ordained praise (ainon) rather than the strength (oze) in the Hebrew version. Of course, Jesus was no doubt speaking Aramaic, when He said these words, not the Greek Matthew used in presenting the story of Christ to the Greek-speaking world. So there may be no way for us to know 100% which word He actually chose. But if God brings about strength through children and infants, I’m not sure what that means, and it doesn’t seem to fit the situation of children shouting in the Temple very well. It seems a lot more likely that Jesus says God brings praise through children and infants. In that case, Jesus’ quotation of Psalm 8:2 stops before the word strength, and He leaves it off, as well as the part about God’s enemies, finishing the sentence with “praise” instead.
That understanding clearly fits in with the teachings of the Bible as a whole. Also, it shows us at least two things worth remembering about praise. First, our praise begins with God. He calls it forth, ordains it, prepares and perfects it. We worship in response to God’s leading. And when we do it well, when He is pleased with our worship, it is because He has led, enabled, and blessed it. We participate in worship with Him.
Also, focusing on the human side of worship, praise needs to be prepared, perfected. As an example, we see our Praise Team doing that each week well before Sunday arrives and 10:30 rolls around. We need to give praise our careful attention if we are going to offer it properly to God. We who are adults also need to teach children to praise God, both through our words and examples.
The last words I’d like to focus on a bit are “children and infants.” You may have heard or read the English phrase, “out of the mouths of babes.” It comes from the old King James Version of v. 16. “. . . ‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise’. . . .” A dictionary gives an example.
Children occasionally say remarkable or insightful things. Mr. and Mrs. Doylewere quietly bickering in the kitchen
when their seven-year-old daughter came in and said, “You guys should get counseling.” After a surprised pause,
Mrs. Doyle remarked, “out of the mouths of babes.”
A good friend of mine (and some of yours) who was a missionary in Sapporo noticed a growth forming on his leg. He was very upset and began not only getting help from doctors but spending a lot of time and energy arranging his family’s finances in every way he could so that if the growth was cancer and he died, his family would be OK. Watching the way he was acting, his young daughter said something like, “Dad, why don’t you just pray about this and leave it in God’s hands? I don’t think He wants you to worry about it this much.” Those words really hit him. They opened his eyes, and he instantly knew she was right. She was telling him things that he had been trying to teach her. He decided to live out in that stressful situation the faith he was here teaching. In the end, the growth was not cancerous, and soon he was laughing at himself for being so worried. Out of the mouths of babes.
The children shouting in the Temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” in today’s story probably have no thought in their minds at all about fulfilling Old Testament prophecy. But that is exactly what happens as they praise Jesus in the Temple. The adults who have modeled this practice of worship for the children likely didn’t have a plan in mind of fulfilling prophecy, either. But God chooses to use them for that special, holy purpose, and He does what He indicated so long ago in Psalm 8 that He had chosen to do. God demonstrates His faithfulness to His own word and to His people in this way.
One great reason to worship God is His amazing ability to work through even humble, weak human beings to bring about praise. Enabling even small children, or people with not-so-great singing voices, or whatever limitation, to praise Him are examples. It may seem unlikely to us, but God can manage to do it.
We can discover God’s faithfulness more and more as we stay in the habit of praising Him in His house each Sunday for worship. And even more, we can learn, with His help, to orient our lives so that we live each day to His glory.
Let’s pray to that end now.
God, we know that you want to receive praise from pure, sincere, uncluttered hearts. So help us to learn from those children in the Temple and say with them, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Free us, too, when we have the kind of self-interested, closed-minded, and wrong-headed spirits that the religious leaders in today’s Bible story have. Make us as genuine and honest as children before you as we give you our praise here in this church and everywhere we go. Through our worship, help us learn how faithful you are to keep your promises and how fully in control of our lives and all things you really are. With that knowledge, help us walk in peace through each day ahead. This is our prayer, in Christ’s name. Amen.
Gill, J. (1746-1763). John Gill's Exposition of the Bible. Retrieved September 5, 2022 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/gills-exposition-of- the-bible/matthew-21-14.html
Henry, M. (1706). Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible (Complete).
Retrieved September 2, 2022 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/ commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/matthew/21.html
Spears, R. A. (2002). McGraw-Hill Dictionary of American Idioms and Phrasal Verbs. New York: McGraw-Hill.