Second Reformed Church

Monday, March 31, 2014

"The Holiness and Sovereignty of God" Sermon: Psalm 97

“The Holiness and Sovereignty of God”

[Psalm 97]

March 30, 2014 Second Reformed Church

            This week, Bill Gates said that he thinks God is probably a figment of our imagination, yet science has provided no explanation for the existence of the world, so, it’s ok to believe in God, but, he said, he didn’t see how belief in God would affect how a person lives his life (http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/bill_gates_no_scientific_explanation_for_how_the_world_came_about).

            Does believing in God matter?  Does it make a difference?  Does it matter if we believe in the True God or just make one up for ourselves?  Do we live our lives any differently from others if we believe that there is One God Who is Holy and Sovereign over everything?

            The author of Psalm 97 – who is not named – certainly thought so.  And, as this psalm is part of the Word of God, we may also say that God thinks so.

            In the four sections of this psalm, we find:

            First, the Holy and Sovereign God brings joy and removes evil.

            Second, the Holy and Sovereign God puts false religions and their followers to shame.

            Third, the Holy and Sovereign God causes His followers to rejoice and worship.

            And fourth, the Holy and Sovereign God preserves and delivers His followers.

            First, the Holy and Sovereign God brings joy and removes evil.

            “The LORD reigns, let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad!”

            The name that is used for God in our text, which is translated “LORD,” is the name, YHWH – that most holy Name of God that the One True God gave to Moses to identity Himself to His people – the Name which means, “I Am Who I Am.”  And the word that is used for “reigns” indicates a universal kingship – and it is in the present tense – the LORD reigns now.  So the psalm begins with this declaration that the One True God – the God Who delivered Israel out of the hands of Egypt by His Mighty Right Arm – is the Sovereign King – the Universal King – the Ruler over everything that is.

            Because that is true, everyone and everything ought to rejoice – God being the Universal King and Sovereign is the greatest reality that could possibly be.  Everyone ought to rejoice in this Truth – from Jerusalem – to the farthest reaches – the coastlands.  God, our God, the One God, is completely in control and ruling over everything that is – rejoice!          

            Nothing happens by chance or accident or luck – all comes from the Sovereign Hand of God according to His Will.

            “Clouds and thick darkness are all around him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.  Fire goes before him and burns up his adversaries all around.  His lightnings light up the world;    the earth sees and trembles.  The mountains melt like wax before the LORD, before the Lord of all the earth.”

            The first readers and singers of this psalm would have thought back to the Exodus as they read and sang this passage – remembering how God met with them in the wilderness and at Mount Sinai gave His Law:

            “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up” (Exodus 19:16-20, ESV).

            God met with Israel surrounded by clouds of thick darkness as a warning and a protection to them that they were in the presence of the Holy God Who cannot tolerate sin or evil in His Presence.  The clouds and darkness and fire and sound was to cause them to fear – to consider who they were – standing before the Holy God Who is Sovereign over all.

            This God is the God Who sits on the Throne with a foundation of righteousness and justice.  That means that God rules in righteousness and justice.  Everything that God does is righteous and just.  The words here tell us that everything God does is ethically right, and everything God does is legally right.  And, of course, we are holding up God’s Law for the definition of what is ethically and legally right.  Everything that God does and declares and commands are in line with what He has stated to be ethically and legally right.  God never sins – God always does what is right – and we who believe ought to rejoice in that – we can always count on God to do what is right.

            And one thing that God is doing and will continue to do and complete on the last day when He comes to restore the Creation – is to remove evil.

            God sends down fire and burns up evil – in the sense that evil will be punished for being evil.  All sin and evil-doing must be punished, because God is Holy.  This punishment in the life of a believer is discipline; this punishment in the life of the non-believer is judgment.

            God sends down lightning which lights up the whole earth – exposing what has been done – what our motivations have been – what evil has been done in the darkness – it is being and will all be exposed.  As Peter wrote, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:10, ESV).

            When the LORD of all the earth returns, the mountains – all the inanimate objects in the world – will have the good sense to melt away before His Glory.  And God will remove evil and sin from the Creation and subject it to its rightful due.

            We remember the oft-quoted text about that day, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:1-4, ESV).

            Let us rejoice in our Holy and Sovereign LORD for bringing joy to we who believe and for the promise to remove all evil and sin from the Creation, in accordance with His righteousness and justice.

            Second, the Holy and Sovereign God puts false religions and their followers to shame.

            “The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all the peoples see his glory.  All worshipers of images are put to shame, who make their boast in worthless idols; worship him, all you gods!”

            The heavens proclaim the righteousness of God in the fulfillment of His Promise to send a Savior to make God’s people right with Him again.  For the moment after the Fall, God declares in our hearing:

            “I will put enmity between [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV).  The plan to reveal God’s Righteousness is revealed in the results of the first sin – God’s plan to glorify Himself before all of Creation in sending a Savior.

            Isaiah prophesies both about the First and Second Coming of God the Savior:

            “A voice cries:  ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.  And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 40:3-5, ESV).

            The Righteousness of God was proclaimed from the heavens in Jesus being born – God Incarnate – to glorify God in the salvation of all the people that God gave Him.

            Our salvation will be complete as the heavens proclaim the righteousness of God in sending Jesus the second time to gather all the elect from the four winds of heaven and to fully establish His Kingdom by removing all sin and evil and their effects and bringing the New Jerusalem to the resorted Creation.

            “For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations” (Isaiah 66:18-19, ESV).

            As the Gospel is proclaim from Jerusalem to the coastlands and all throughout the Creation, God is glorified, His Righteousness in the Work of Salvation is made known to all people, and all those who believe rejoice in it.

            But those who worship a false god – an idol – and continue to do so in rebellion against the One True God will be put to shame, as the rock and pieces of wood, and base metals have the good sense to bow before their God and Creator.  On that day, all those who refuse to believe will be shamed as they are made to bow before the One True God and suffer His Righteous Judgment for their sin.

            Third, the Holy and Sovereign God causes His followers to rejoice and worship.

            “Zion hears and is glad, and the daughters of Judah rejoice,             because of your judgments, O LORD.  For you, O LORD, are most high over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods.”

            Who is Zion?  Zion is Jerusalem – all those who believe in the Savior God sends.  Zion is the Church – the whole company of all those believers throughout time and space who believes in the Savior God has sent.

            What have we heard?  What do we hear?  We hear the righteousness of God.  We heard the justice of God.  We hear the judgments of God.  We hear what God has done in the past – in our lives – promised in the future – and the psalmist calls on us to be glad!  To rejoice!

            If we believe in our hearts in the Savior that God has sent for all those who will believe, then we are saved from the Wrath of God against our sin – Jesus has taken that penalty on Himself for us – He has become a curse before God and punished for all of our sin.  As Paul wrote, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’— “ (Galatians 3:13, ESV).

And not only that, we have been given His Righteousness – our account has been credited with His perfect keeping of God’s Law.  As Paul wrote, “It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26, ESV).  So, through Jesus, we are right and righteous with God, and we are welcomed into His Kingdom – that is reason to be glad and rejoice, is it not?

            We have reason to rejoice and be glad because God – in His Judgment – in his Justice – will bring His Wrath down on all sin and evil that has risen up against Him and give all those who have committed it and never believed that just punishment of Hell for their reward.

            And we may wonder:  are we being told to rejoice and be glad that there are people suffering in Hell?  The answer is, “no.”  Yet, we hold in tension with the idea that we should never rejoice in people suffering Hell – much less should we ever wish someone should spend eternity there – but we should be proclaiming the Gospel and calling all people to repentance and belief – yet, we do rejoice that God is Holy and Just and Sovereign and He will not wink or allow sin to slip through, but He will give just punishment to all sin and evil.  We do not rejoice that there are people suffering for their sin in Hell, but we rejoice that God is Just and Righteous in His punishment of sin and evil.

            In opposition to those who worship false gods, the psalmist lifts up our God, the One True God, the Holy and Sovereign God, and praises Him for His Attributes – God is the Sovereign, Most High, God – there is none other more true, more holy, more great, more life-giving – so we thank our God – so let us praise Him and lift up our voices to proclaim His Gospel in joy!

            And fourth, the Holy and Sovereign God preserves and delivers His followers.

            “O you who love the LORD, hate evil!”

            How do we respond to knowing this God?  By hating evil and pursuing righteousness and holiness.  We are to spend our lives fighting against sin and evil and proclaim the One Holy and Sovereign God Who Alone provides salvation for all those who will believe – that, Mr. Gates, is how the belief in the True God changes a person.

            Paul writes to Timothy:  “But God's firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are his,’ and, ‘Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity’” (2 Timothy 2:19, ESV).

            Believing in Jesus, God the Savior, we trust Him for our salvation, and we seek to fight against sin and evil – that still remains in us – and that which is in the world.  We begin by fighting by the Power of the Holy Spirit – turning away from temptation – recognizing Christ and His salvation as being worth more than all the fleeting pleasures of sin combined.

            When we are tempted to lust after someone’s body or stuff, we must cry to our Father and ask God for help to turn away and refuse the temptation.  When we are tempted to steal – whether things or time or ideas – etc., we must cry out to our Father and ask God for help to turn away and refuse the temptation.  When we are tempted to lie about people or ourselves to get what we don’t deserve, we must cry out to our Father and ask God for help to turn away and refuse the temptation.  Whenever we are tempted to do something God has forbidden or when we are tempted not to do what God has commanded – we must cry out to God for the help that we need – for the way of escape that God has promised us – so we have no excuse:  “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13, ESV).

            We are very concerned about other people’s sins, but we are not as diligent with our sins as we ought to be:  “you who love the LORD, hate evil!”  We have to find out ways to short-circuit those temptations we are most likely to follow into sin.  Seek help from God and from fellow Christians that you trust.  We are to bear one another’s burdens – we are to seek each other’s good – we are one body – seeking to become the holy people that God has called us to be – and so we shall.

Notice, we are told to hate evil – so we are to hate the evil that others do – we are to confront it – but we are never given instruction to take vengeance.

            Paul explains our hope as we seek to not follow temptation into sin:  “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

            “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (Romans 7:15-25, ESV).

            Our hope is in our God and Savior, as the psalmist continues:

            “He preserves the lives of his saints;   he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.  Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”

            God preserves the lives of all those who believe in the Savior.  What does that mean?

            God cares for His people.  God watches over His people.  God protects His people.  God makes sure that each one of us fulfills our purpose in life – especially to the end of glorifying Him.  God prays for us:  “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled” (John 17:9-12, ESV).

            When we are told that God preserves His people, it does not mean that we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise – that is a heresy of the so-called “prosperity preachers.”  What we are promised is that we will have all that we need for this day, and God will not allow us to fall so into sin that we are eternally lost – we who believe shall never commit the unforgiveable sin – we shall never commit apostasy.

            God delivers us – in sense that Israel was delivered from Egypt and Babylon – so, we are delivered from our sin and its wages if we have received Jesus as our Savior.  God may deliver us from things we dislike or prefer would not happen now and then, but we are promised that we will suffer for Christ as Christians, and then be delivered – as Peter explained:

            “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 5:8-11, ESV).

            We are preserved through this life and delivered from sin and its wages.

            The response to the good news that God has not left us alone and dead in our sins is to be filled with joy – and rejoice – and to be thankful – showing our thanks to God in the way that we live and through our proclaiming the Gospel.

            “Rejoice in the LORD, O you righteous, and give thanks to his holy name!”

            Let us pray:


            Almighty God, we rejoice and give thanks that You are the One True God.  We thank You that You can be trusted and will never change.  We thank You that You are Sovereign over all of Creation and that You will preserve us and deliver us to the end, putting to shame and judgment all sin and evil and those who continue in them.  Help us to follow after You.  Stir up our desire to seek after holiness.  And continue to form us into the image of Your Son.  For it is our joy to see You glorified.  In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

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