Second Reformed Church

Friday, December 30, 2016

"Sing. Be Glad. Rejoice." Sermon: Psalm 96



“Sing. Be Glad. Rejoice.”
[Psalm 96:1-13]
December 24, 2016 Second Reformed Church
            As we break into the celebration of Christmas, we consider these words of the Psalmist in Psalm 96.  Here we see that all that exists is called to praise and magnify God, the Lord.
            First, Israel is to sing a new song to the Lord, because the Lord is the Creator.
            “Oh sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth! Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
            “For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.”
            The Psalmist begins by telling Israel to sing.  Israel are those believers of the historical, ancient nation of Israel.  Yet, we rightly explain this to all believers, first, as Paul writes, “But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” (Romans 9:6, ESV).  In other words, the true Israel is not biological Jews, but all those who believe in Jesus savingly.
            The Psalmist tells us to sing a new song to greatly praise YHWH, the Lord.
            Have you ever written a poem for someone, or a song, or sang a song to someone you cared about?  Have you ever written or said something to someone to express your love of someone?  The Psalmist tells us this is a way in which we are to respond to God; we are to respond in creative passion to God – to effusively break forth – to think of God and Who He is and what He has done and not be able to hold back, but with our own words to burst forth in song to Him and about Him.
            We who have been saved have reason to carry on about our Savior, do we not?  As we come into the presence of God, we are energized and held captive by Him – not put to sleep, right?  If we truly believe that God has saved us from unimaginable horror, we must naturally burst forth telling God how great He is and thanking Him for that salvation He has given us, right?
            No other god is like our God.  All the other gods are nothing – they are nonsense.  Isaiah explains this:
            “The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, ‘Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’
            “They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, ‘Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?’ He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:12-20, ESV).
            Isaiah says, “Don’t you see the insanity of every other god but the true God.  If the crops go bad, you cut down a tree, you use part of the tree for firewood, and part of the tree you carve into an idol, and once you have made your idol, you set it before the fire and worship it.  That’s insanity.”
            In our culture, we don’t worship idols like they did in Isaiah’s days, but we worship, money and power and sex – and all of these things are fleeting – all of them can be lost.
            But our God, the Lord, the True God, is the Creator of everything than exists.  He is our One and Only Savior, He has no beginning and no end.  He always was and always will be.  He alone is truly worthy of worship and raising our voices in song.
            Second, all the peoples of the world are to ascribe glory to the Lord, because He is a just Judge.
            “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength! Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
            “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’”
            In the Psalmist’s day. The world was divided, by-and-large, into Israel and Gentiles – the families of the peoples – everybody else.  There were two groups of people, though we understand that is not quite accurate, because not everyone in national Israel was a believer, and there were some believers among the nations – the Gentiles.
            But here we have the fact that the number of believers coming from outside of national Israel will explode – the number of believers from every other people and nation in the world will grow.
            And so the Psalmist calls on all those believers, from all the nations of the world to ascribe to the Lord – to be ambassadors to the Lord – to announce the truth of Who the Lord is and what He has done telling all the rest of the peoples that the Lord is the Great God – magnifying Him – telling everything they have come to know about Who He is and what He has done – especially in salvation – explaining that He is Holy, Holy, Holy – the God against Whose measure we all will be placed.
            And the Psalmist tells them to bring an offering – and lest we get confused – if we remember – there were many blood sacrifices in Israel – but that is not what the Psalmist is saying God wants from them; the offering mentioned here is specifically a thank offering.  Giving true, heartfelt thanks to God for Who He is and what He has done.
            God made it clear that He does not desire blood – and the sacrifices themselves were not the point: “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats” (Isaiah 1:11, ESV).
            “Thus says the LORD: ‘Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD’” (Jeremiah 9:23-24, ESV).
            The offering God has always wanted is faith and obedience and thanksgiving.
            And so God calls on the believers among the nations to come to worship – to know God intimately, to tremble before His Holiness in a joyful fear – if you have ever met someone you truly respected – magnify that infinitely – and deliver His message to the world.
            And the message the nations are to give is that the Lord God is the Sovereign King over all of Creation, and He reigns and will reign and the world will never end.  This planet will not be destroyed by nuclear holocaust, by global warming, by Donald Trump, or by aliens.  God will change this world when He comes to earth with the fullness of His Kingdom, but this earth will not end, it is our eternal home with our God and Savior.
            Third, all nature is to rejoice, because the faithful Lord will restore the Creation.
            “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”
            God calls on the created order to respond to Him – to be what each one is to its fullest perfection – the heavens to perfectly be the heavens, the sea the sea, the creatures in it, the fields, the trees – all of Creation.
            We understand that trees don’t really have mouths to sing with, and the fields are not going to proclaim God’s Glory with their mouths, but the Creation – by acting perfectly according to its creation – praises God.
            Even now, in its marred state, the Creation makes God’s existence and attributes absolutely obvious – as Paul writes, “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” (Romans 1:19-20, ESV).
            What the Psalmist is getting at is the perfect revelation of God through the Creation when the Creation is freed from its fallen state and made perfect again, as Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:18-23, ESV).
            As the Psalmist write, “the earth is fixed; it shall never be moved,” but it will be restored, and that is what he is getting at when he rejoices in the Lord God judging the earth and all peoples.
            When we talk about judgement, we tend to focus on those who are judged to condemnation, but that is not the better part:  God will judge the Creation and free it to holy restoration, and God will judge all we who believe – and for the sake of the work of His Son, Jesus – He will free us to eternal holiness in the Kingdom.
            What does this have to do with Christmas?
            Who is the Lord God who saves believers from Israel and from the Gentiles?  Who is the Lord God Who judges and restores the Creation and all believers at the end of days?  Who is it that will be praised and glorified by all people and nations and all of Creation for Who He is and all that He has done, with special reference to salvation?
            Paul writes, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:5-11, ESV).
            It is Jesus.  Jesus is the Lord God Almighty, the Savior, that all of the prophets pointed to.  He is the One in Whom all Creation shall rejoice and be restored.  He is the One Who – in order to satisfy the justice of God under the Law – came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ – this little Baby Whom we worship and adore.
            And so, now, today, and every day, God has called all people and all of Creation to rejoice and glorify His Son, our Savior.  And on that final day, we will all do so perfectly, eternally, and in great joy.
            As we wait for that day in hope, let us be thankful, and never cease to open our mouths to tell of the Glory of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior.
            Let us pray:
            Almighty God, as we come to celebrate the birth of Your Son, our Savior, let us not get lost in the holiday, but reveal Jesus for Who He is and tell all the world what He has done.  Help us to tell others that we celebrate Christmas because Jesus is worthy as our Savior.  And may we offer up our thanks to You, forever and ever.  Amen.

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