Sunday, March 16, 2014
"The Holiness of God as Universal King" Sermon: Psalm 47
“The Holiness of God as Universal King”
March 16, 2014 Second Reformed Church
Who rules over us?
The President? The Congress? The Governor? The Mayor? The Classis? The Consistory? The Pastor? Your husband? Your wife? Your children?
Who ultimately rules over us?
Even if you are not a believer, the fact that you are in a church – and perhaps because you looked at the sermon title – I suspect most of us would say that God rules over us. God is the Ultimate Ruler. God is the Sovereign King over all. The Holy God is the Universal King.
Do we believe that? Does it make any difference to us if we believe it or not? Does it make any difference if it is true?
We are told that the authors of Psalm 47 are the “sons of Korah.” Other than that – which tells us very little, indeed, there is nothing in the psalm to put it in response to any particular event or time, so we turn to what the psalm itself says.
The psalm consists of two verses, in which we see:
First, all people of all nations are called to praise and thank God.
And second, the Holy God is the Universal King.
And so, let us turn to the first verse of the psalm, which comprises verses one through four of our text:
First, all people of all nations are called to praise and thank God.
And lest we say, “What about the atheists?” Paul reminds us that everyone knows and believes that God exists: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:19-21, ESV).
The psalmist begins:
“Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
The expression that is used in our text means all people, all nations, all of humankind – not one human who was or is or will be is left out of the instruction to praise and thank God. This is a universal command to every human being.
What are we to do in thanking and praising God?
The psalmist names two things:
We are to clap our hands – we are to use our bodies to praise and thank God. And as we saw last week – we are all made differently – some people are very physical in expressing themselves, some people are not – and we are to love and work with each other’s ability to physically respond. What we do should not be forced – but a natural response to God of praise and thanksgiving. If it is not natural – as a believer, it is probably not real – not legitimate.
We are also to sing. We are to sing vocally – using our voices to the best of our ability. We are to singing joyfully – with true joy in our hearts as we respond to God in joy. We are to sing universally – we are to all sing together in praise and thanksgiving to God. And we are to sing constantly – there is no pause given for humanity to stop praising and thanking God in song. Now, that does not mean that any one person has to sing constantly – we would not be able to do anything else – unless we live in a musical – but the praise and thanksgiving, expressed in song is to continue around the world day and night – as it will be when we are received into the Kingdom of God.
“For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.”
This God is to be thanked and praised because He is the One God of Israel – YHWH – the One Who brought them out of Egypt; the One God Who makes salvation for His people, the Most High God, above Whom there is no other. He is the One True God – the Creator, the Sustainer, the Savior, and the Judge – of everything that is.
And since He is that great, you show good sense in being afraid of Him – if you don’t believe in Him – and by bowing before Him and following Him in humble obedience if you do believe, because as the One True God, He is the Self-Appointed and Only King of “all the earth” – over all the created stuff in existence – including you and me.
Who would dare to raise a word against the God Who called all things into existence through speaking? And who would dare to sin against the One God Who can grant salvation to His disobedient creatures? And who is such a fool to go where angels fear to tread when God has chosen you and saved you through His Son, Jesus? And who would not take comfort in knowing that the Creator King, the One True God, YHWH of Israel, is his God and King?
Moses explained to Israel that they should not fear as they go into the Promised Land to conquer the other nations and take the land that God was giving them: “You shall not be in dread of them, for the LORD your God is in your midst, a great and awesome God” (Deuteronomy 7:21, ESV).
Similarly, we are told the right place to put our fear: “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:4-7, ESV).
The psalmist says that we should thank and praise God because “He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.”
Israel would have understood this immediately, as they reflected back on their deliverance from Egypt and their coming into the Promised Land. For example, when Jehoshaphat was going into battle against the Moabites and the Ammonites, we read:
“Meanwhile all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children. And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. And he said, “Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God's. Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you” (2 Chronicles 20:13-17, ESV).
In looking back on their history, this and other examples served as reasons to praise and thank God – because in the salvation of God’s people, the battle of the Lord was the Lord’s battle. God did not need the army of Israel to accomplish His purposes in securing Canaan for them.
Similarly, all we who believe have reason to thank and praise God for preparing a home for us and for putting all our enemies under His feet:
Jesus said, “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4, ESV).
And the author of Hebrews explained, “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:12-14, ESV).
In the end, we are told, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15, ESV).
God is to be praised and thanked for putting down our enemies – and for continuing to put down our enemies until all the enemies of the Gospel are put down under Christ’s feet, so that we will have a place with Him, and He would be praised and thanked and glorified forever.
The psalmist also tells us that we are to praise and thank God for making us His people – especially through salvation: “He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves.”
Israel would have remembered that God chose the biological people of Israel to be His people – as Moses reminded them: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:7-8, ESV).
Yet, the psalmist more specifically points to those who have been saved by God spiritually – the heritage not merely being that of being part of the community, but part of the communion – not merely being born into the Church, but being those God loved to eternal salvation.
As Paul explained, “And not only so, but also when Rebekah had conceived children by one man, our forefather Isaac, though they were not yet born and had done nothing either good or bad—in order that God's purpose of election might continue, not because of works but because of him who calls—she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’” (Romans 9:10-13, ESV).
And the answer to why is greater than our meriting salvation. We are not to be thankful that God allowed us to do enough good to be part of His heritage – to be those He loves – no, we are told, “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19, ESV), and “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).
We have the heritage God chose for us, and He loves us as His sons and daughters, because He was pleased to choose to love us and make us His own. That is why we should praise and thank Him.
So, the psalmist tells us that we should thank and praise God as believers in the Savior He sent, because God is the Holy God and Universal King, He has and will defeat all of His and our enemies, and He has secured for us a heritage and loves us because He chose us to be His.
Between the first and second verses of the psalm, we have the word, “Selah.” Scholars think that this is a notation for an instrumental break. So, singers of this psalm would sing the first verse, there would be an instrumental break, and then they would go on to the second verse.
In the second verse, we see more of what it means that the Holy God is the Universal King.
“God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.”
Worship in Israel was brought to order with a shout and with the playing of a trumpet – actually a ram’s horn – a shofar – and the same thing occurs today in synagogues around the globe: the shofar is blown and the rabbi calls the people to worship with the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, ESV).
The image that the psalmist gives us is one of God calling the people to worship – God went up – to the Temple, which was on top of Mount Zion – and God shouted and blew the trumpet. Whether any human being ever calls us to worship, because we know God as the Holy God and Universal King, there is a standing call from God to come together and worship Him.
We see this prophetically fulfilled in Jesus’ Ascension: “Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:50-53, ESV).
Jesus went up after giving what we call, “The great Commission” – to go and proclaim the Gospel to the whole Creation -- and the disciples’ first response was to go to the Temple to worship Jesus.
On the Day of Pentecost, Peter explained that in Jesus’ going up, He resumed His reign as the Holy and Universal King: “Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this that you yourselves are seeing and hearing” (Acts 2:33, ESV).
Since Jesus is the Almighty God, Who now reigns from Heaven, He asked His Father to send the Holy Spirit to guide and empower all we who believe, and They sent Him.
The response to God’s going up and calling all to worship is not unexpected:
“Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises! For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!”
We notice that the readers and singers of this psalm are called and call others to sing praises to God – and that call is repeated five times. We may remember that in Hebrew, to emphasize something, they repeated it – so Jesus said, “truly, truly,” and God is sung of as “holy, holy, holy.” Here we are told to “sing praises, sing praises, sing praises, sing praises, sing praises” – a rather extreme repetition to emphasize the great importance of praising One Who is worthy of praise.
Perhaps the psalmist repeated this because we are so forgetful to give thanks – we’re good at asking for things, but not so good at giving thanks – perhaps even worse at giving thanks to God for being God – for being worthy of thanksgiving and praise – showing what about God is worth being thanked.
Here, the psalmist gives us two reasons to be ever vigilant in our praising of God:
First, He is our God. The psalm repeated shows us that God is above, above, above – and worthy of worship due to the God He is – He is the God Who has chosen and made us to be His people. He is the God Who has promised to give us a home and a life with Him.
Second, He is King over all of Creation. He is King not only of Israel, but of the Gentiles – the non-Jews. He is not just King over those who believe in Him, but of all people and all creatures and the entire created order. Everything that exists does so for His praise – and He is King over all.
So all people and all of Creation is bid to join together in praise of God
Then the psalmist continues on telling us about this God and why He is worthy of praise:
“God reigns over the nations;”
Daniel said, “Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding; he reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with him” (Daniel 2:20b-22, ESV).
After God punished King Nebuchadnezzar for his sin, he said, “At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35, ESV).
And during Jesus’ trial before Pilate, we read: “So Pilate said to [Jesus], ‘You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?’ Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin’” (John 19:10-11, ESV).
Who is Sovereign? Who is the Ultimate Ruler? If we are doing what’s right and we are servants of God, the King, is there any reason to be afraid of human rulers? John Knox, the Scottish Reformer, said, “A man with God is always in the majority.”
One thing to note is that the word “reigns” used in our text implies a reign that continues from the past and into the future. Unlike any other ruler, God’s reign was and is and will be. We’re told something of this when Jesus told the Jews, “’Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’” So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am’” (John 8:56-58, ESV). In this text, we have Jesus’ assertion that He has always been alive, and that He is God – “I am” – which is the Name that God gave Moses for God.
“God sits on his holy throne.”
This God that we give thanks and praise to is not just any god, but He is the Holy God Who sits enthroned and reigns in holiness. God and His reign are absolutely pure and unstained in every way.
As Isaiah saw the seraphim singing before the throne of God, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” (Isaiah 6:3b, ESV). And against we see the repetition – “holiness” is given the highest emphasis of the attributes of God – if God is nothing else, God is Holy.
“The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.”
The word “peoples” means “the nations” – everybody who is not a Jew. So, we see the psalmist recognizing that God brings non-Jews into the family of God. God makes non-Jews who believe children of Abraham. They are ingrafted into the family of Abraham.
Paul uses the imagery of branches being grafted into a vine to explain how it is that God has received non-Jews into the Kingdom – into the family of Abraham: “Then you will say, ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.’ That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:19-22, ESV).
So, God is the King of the Jews and the non-Jews – God is the King of everyone. God is the Holy Universal King. All humans and all of Creation sit under the Holy Sovereign Rule of God.
And that is how we who were not born Jews are allowed to come into the Kingdom through Jesus Christ: “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Ephesians 3:6, ESV). Through the Gospel, all people are called to believe and repent, and God has chosen people from the Jews and the non-Jews to receive the call and believe and repent – to receive salvation through Jesus.
“For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted!”
God is Holy. God is the Universal King. And the psalmist ends by concluding that God is the Sovereign Military Leader of the Creation. God is high and lifted up and worthy to be followed and hoped in because He has all the military strength – it’s all His.
That’s why we shouldn’t worry about humans blowing the planet out of the sky. Jesus said He is coming back to this earth. Therefore, it is not possible that we will blow the planet out of the sky.
It also tells us that we shouldn’t be afraid of human military powers coming against us or our country, because God can stop them, if He wills to do so. Remember in the Garden of Gethsemane, “While [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.’ And he came up to Jesus at once and said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ And he kissed him. Jesus said to him, ‘Friend, do what you came to do.’ Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?’” (Matthew 26:47-54, ESV).
Twelve legions of angels would have been about 70,000 angels. Jesus was telling Peter that all the power and all the military might in Creation belong to Him as God. The issue was not who had the bigger army; the issue was Jesus being exalted and completing the salvation of His people through His death, resurrection, and ascension. So, it had to be.
So, God is the Holy and Universal King Who has all authority and all power and all military might, and if we believe savingly in Jesus, He is our God. We can trust Him. He will bring everything to pass as He has purposed.
And then we are right back to reasons to praise and thank Him, are we not?
So, let us pray:
Holy, Universal King, our God and Father, we thank You for being the God Who is Sovereign, the God Who can be trusted, the God Who saves us, the God Who gives us hope, the God Who is worthy of all praise and thanks now and forever. Help us to show the world Who You are, no matter what our circumstances are or what they may look like. And we ask this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.