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The great God - Psalm 96

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 27th May 2007.

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I know itís a strange time of year. But I want you to think about Christmas. You know, big celebration and presents and all that. And if thatís not got you excited, then I want you to try and remember what it was like being a child waiting for Christmas. How many days to Christmas daddy. It is Christmas yet daddy. Apparently, when I was a boy, I used to burst into my parents bedroom at some unearthly hour on Christmas morning and say: heís been.

And itís that sense of anticipation, excitement, and joy that permeates Ps 96. But Ps 96 was originally part of the Davidís overall Psalm of praise in 1 Chron 16. And that historical context gives us a massive clue as to why Ps 96 was written and how it applies to us. So turn back with me if you would to 1 Chron 11 on p387/ 641].

And in v1-3, we see David being anointed king over all Israel, just as the Lord has promised through the prophet Samuel. Anointed King David was the new Joshua. The original Joshua being the one whoíd been used by God to led his people into the Promised Land. In to the land of Canaan that is. Into the land which God had promised to Abraham. Remember those promises to Abraham: people, land and blessing. But when Joshua died, there were still pockets of resistance in the Promised Land. And Jerusalem was one of those pockets. Before David became king, the Jebusites were still living in the city of Jerusalem. The fortress of Zion as it was known. Because Jerusalem was a city on a hill and was notoriously difficult to conquer. Fortress Zion.

And in v4, we can see the Jebusites defying Godís anointed king by saying: "you wonít get in here". But nevertheless, v5 tells us, David did capture the fortress of Zion and turned it into the City of David as v7 &8 tell us.

The over the page in chapter 14 David defeats another pocket of resistance: the Philistines. And symbolically in v12, as they retreated, the philistines abandoned their pathetic idol gods; and David promptly burns them in the fire.

At the beginning of chapter 15, David begins to prepare a place for the ark of the covenant in his new capital city of Jerusalem. He prepared a place for the ark of God and pitched a tent or tabernacle for it. And it you remember from Exodus, the ark was placed in the holy of holies; the central part of the tabernacle. The place where God symbolically dwelt among His people.

So what weíve got pictured in all this is the conquering king taking up residence in His new royal palace. In the mindset of the ancient world, Davidís God, the God of the Bible, the Lord has beaten the gods of the Jebusites and Philistines. The Lord is now on the throne in Jerusalem. Thatís the picture. And so just like on VE Day or at other times of celebration, like the Queenís jubilee or Christmas, thereís a nation celebration led by the nationís leader. And as weíve seen, Ps 96 forms part of Davidís Psalm of praise in the middle of 1 Chron 16.

  • Godís people should [joyfully] Praise the Lord (v1-3)
  • So with all that background in mind but turn back to Ps 96 on [p561/ 934]. And in v1-3, we see that Godís people should joyfully praise the Lord.

    This isnít an Anglican hymn sandwich. You know; hymn; reading; hymn; prayers; hymn sermon. No, weíve got 3 back-to-back songs here. And the emotion of these opening verses, and indeed the whole psalm, is an increasing crescendo of praise; so by the time we get to v11-13, the heavens and the earth are all praising the Lord.

    But letís not jump the gun. Come back to the songs of praise in v1&2. And the issue here is: whoís singing what to who? Well letís take the easy one first. Who are they singing to: well itís the Lord of course. And remember, that whenever you see the LORD in capital letter in your OT itís translating Godís special covenant name: Yahweh. The special name God revealed to Moses. The Lord; Yahweh, the compassionate and gracious God.

    So in v2 when weíre singing the praises of Godís name, we not simply mentioning the Lordís name: Yahweh; weíre calling to mind his covenant Ėfaithful character. So weíre singing to the Lord in v2: weíre praising His name. But whatís actually being sung in v1. Well itís a new song. And you may have noticed in recent weeks & months that weíve introduced some new songs both up at SFs and more so here at Riverside. As weíll be singing later: sing to God new songs of worship.

    But new songs donít literally mean new as opposed to old. New has the sense of freshness. Sing to God fresh and vibrant songs that praise His name; His character. And the problem with lots of modern so-called worship songs is that they all about me, me , me: about my feelings, my response and my comfort. Whereas the Psalms teach us to sing songs of worship about and to God. To sing of His character as expressed in His wonderful deeds, as weíll come onto in a moment. And you canít do that if you donít know the Lord: if you donít know who He is and what Heís done.

    Which brings us to that final question in v1: who is doing the praising? Who is singing those new songs? Well in the NIV, the end of v1 says "all the earth", but the word translated earth here can also be translated land. And in context, thatís better; because itís the land, or rather the people of the land, the nation of Israel that is, who are singing Godís praises. The very people whose existence is a fulfilment of those promises to Abraham, praise the God who made and kept His promises to them. A God whoíd brought them into the Promised Land and set up His throne on Mt Zion.

    And so because of that, because of the Lordís character reflected in His deeds, His people are to praise Him joyfully. And that includes times of corporate worship with hymns, psalms and spiritual songs.

    But itís more than that. The corporate worship in v1 and 2a, leads onto the proclamation of the rest of v2 & 3. The proclamation of His saving deeds among the nations. After theyíd sung Godís praises, Godís people were to go out among the pagan nations and tell them what a great God Yahweh was. About His marvellous deeds. About His promises and how Heíd kept them.

    And again, this goes right back to those initial promises to Abraham. God promises to bless His people, the nation of Israel which would come from Abrahamís body, but that through them, through His people Israel that is, he was planning to bring blessing to all peoples; all types of people that is, not just Jews. People like Ruth the Moabitess who became a dedicated follower of Yahweh.

    And this thinking is reflected all through the OT. Isaiah reminded Godís people that that were meant to be a blessing to all nations. Theyíd been blessed - theyíd been given light, so that they could become a light for the very dark nations that surrounded them.

    And of course theme become even stronger when we come to the book of Acts. Jesus commanded His new covenant people that they were to be His witnesses not just in Jerusalem, but also in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. To all nations that is.

    And so for us here in Riverside this means that itís not enough to sing songs of worship to Yahweh here in church. Yes we need to sing the best of old and modern hymns/ songs in a fresh and engaging way that reflects the inner reality of our vibrant faith in God. But as Jesus put it, we donít hide our light under a bushel when we get out of the building. No weíre to be a light to the pagans starting right here in [Dunswell/ Riverside], and wherever else the Lord brings us into contact.

    So weíve seen then in v1-3 that Godís people then should joyfully praise the Lord and seek to evangelise the pagans.

  • Why? Because The Lord is the One True God (v4-6)
  • But why? Why should Godís people praise His name? Well v4 starts with the word for: and word for is an important link word. It tells us the reason for what came before. The reason for the command to sing praises to the Lord in v1-3 comes in v4-6. Why should Godís people praise His name? Answer: because the Lord is the One true God.

    Literally v4 reads: For great is the Lord and greatly to be prised, referring back to v1-3. The Psalmist is picking up on Godís character again. Heís great, in the sense of His holy character and His power. And because of Godís awesome power, v4 tell us, heís to be feared above all gods; including the gods of the Philistines and the Jebusites that had just been beaten. But not just those gods; because in v5 we discover that the reason Yahwehís to be feared above all gods is because all the gods of the nations are idols. But the Lord: well he made the heavens. Obviously itís a way of referring back to Genesis. In the beginning, the Lord made the heavens and the earth. The Lord created everything that existed, out of nothing, simply by the power of His word. But the point of mentioning God especially creating the heavens is because thatís where the pagan gods were said to live.

    In 1961 when Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, he famously said: "I donít see any gods up here". He was thinking like pagans of Davidís day. Pagans who thought that the gods lived up there in the heavens. But Yahweh created the heavens and the earth; the whole universe in fact. And so heís outside time and space. Yes heís intimately involved with His creation and especially with His covenant people; but he doesnít live up there in the heavens, like a giant Father Christmas in the clouds; like some pathetic pagan god. No Yahweh is to be feared above all such gods; because all other gods, both ancient and modern are idols.

    And the word for idols here isnít the normal OT word for wooden idols. Itís a word that can be translated worthless, or empty or vanity; which is why the ESV goes for worthless idols. And the point is that these other so-called gods are actually nothing. Like a mirage in the desert that people chase after, but when you get there, itís gone; itís evaporated; itís empty; because itís nothing. A mirage.

    As Deut 4 puts it: "The LORD is God [and] besides him there is no other."

    There is no other god besides Yahweh. Heís the creator of everything and everyone. The idea of a whole pantheon of gods fighting it out somewhere up there is a very pagan one. Yahweh won this battle, but maybe the God of the Jebusites or Philistine might win the next one. No says Yahweh: I am God and there is no other. All other gods are nothing; a mirage. So donít be deceived and praise the Lord and Him alone.

    Now you might be tempted to think that weíve moved on from the pantheon of gods in the ancient world. But have we? All thatís happened is that the idols have change their names; the mirage has simply evolved into something that can deceive modern people rather than those of the ancient world. And one popular religion on the modern market is atheism. And its most famous prophet at the moment is Richard Dawkins, whose latest book Ďthe God delusioní has now sold over a million copies. But even fellow atheists have found Dawkinsí arguments biased and naÔve. The famous scientist, and personal friend of Dawkins, Lord Winston has recently condemned the book as patronising and insulting. So if youíve been deluded by the God delusion, or you know someone who has, then come and talk to me, because thereís plenty of literature around that will help you unpick Dawkins arguments.

    But itís not just atheism: weíre all too aware of the rise of militant Islam in our nation. Muslims have been trying to get permission to build a 70,000-seater mega-mosque in East London near the site of the Olympic village. And you might remember the story of Shamboo the cow who lives in a Hindu temple in Wales. Shambooís got TB and so needs to be put down, but Hindus believe that Cows are sacred and have threatened to form a human chain around her to save her from the lethal injection. And of course, if you into any bookshop or just talk to people, then youíll know that people in Britain today are into a whole range of spiritualities and deities. The names have been change to keep up the deception, but the pantheon of gods is very much around today as it was in Davidís day.

    And so in this pluralistic environment, Christians can loose confidence; we can loose confidence in the truth that Yahweh is the one true God; in the fact that there is no other. The truth that all other gods are simply empty nothingness. A mirage. Weíve been seduced by those whoíve change what we mean by tolerance. Tolerance used to mean that we tolerate or put up with the beliefs and practices of those with whom we disagree; we donít agree with them, but we agree to disagree and live graciously alongside them. But in modern Britain, tolerance now means to believe or acts as if all gods and beliefs are the same; Many people in Britain today would regard it as intolerant to say that Yahweh is the one true God. And the puts pressure on us not to proclaim it publically; in case weíre labelled as intolerant and bigoted.

  • The Converted Pagans should [joyfully] praise the Lord (v7-13a)
  • But you canít praise the Lord if you donít praise Him exclusively. Why? Because as weíve seen in v4-6, The lord is the One true God. And so that means, as weíve seen in v3, that Godís people should declare His glory among the pagans. Or in other words, part of the worship of Godís people is evangelism. And when Godís people get stuck into evangelism, then what normally happens is that some of those pagans become Godís people. Or in other words, we see people become Christians. And that brings us more briefly to the second half of the Psalm. Because in v7-13a, we see that the converted pagans are commanded to joyfully praise the Lord.

    Notice the 3-fold ascribe in v7 & 8 mirroring the 3-fold singing in v1&2. And that corporate worship theme is picked in v9 as the converts are command to worship the Lord. Literally to bow down and tremble in His presence. But whoís being addressed in these verses. Well notice in v7 that itís not just the land; the people of Israel that is. No itís the families of nations; the peoples; the non-Jews that is. Pagans. Pagans who through the evangelism of Godís people in v3 have been brought to an understanding of who God is. That Heís the one true God and besides him there is no other. These converted pagans have come to understand the Lordís glory and strength in v7, just as the Jews did back in v6.

    So in v 7-9, weíve seen that these converted pagans are to praise the Lord in corporate worship. And in v10-13a we see that this leads onto evangelism just as it did for Godís Jewish people. In v10, the converted pagans are being commanded to proclaim the Lordís reign to their fellow pagans. The Lord is the One true God, the creator of both the physical and moral universe. Yes Godís world has been messed up by peopleís sin. But the world is firmly established in the sense that the Lord remains the creator. And because heís the creator heís the sovereign ruler of all His creation. And thatís why he deserves allegiance from all the nations, not just the Jews. Because Heís the creator of all.

    And so we seen that the converted pagans should both praise the Lord in corporate worship and evangelise their fellow pagans, which will lead to more pagans become Christians. And what this Psalm is pointing forward to is the multiplication of ministries we see described in the book of Acts and the rest of the NT.

    In the Christian church there are no passengers. Everyoneís part of the crew. We all have a job to do, and collectively, our ministries should be multiplying further ministry as the Gospel goes out and touches more lives. That doesnít mean that weíre all called to be evangelists. But it does mean we all have a part to play in the overall ministry of the church. Why is that?

  • Why? Because Judgement is coming (v13b-c)
  • Well in v4-6 Godís Jewish people we told that the reason they praised the Lord and evangelised was because there was only One true God, Yahweh and beside Him there is no other. And as weíve seen, that's still true for us. But in the rest of v13, the converted pagan are given another reason to get on with evangelism. And thatís because final judgement is coming. And Godís judgement will be just and true and fair. And everyone whoís been living in the Lordís world without acknowledging Him as the creator and Lord will be held to account; will be held justly to account. On the day of the Lord. The day when the Lord comes to wind up human history and remake the heavens and the earth into that perfect new creation. And the NT make it clear that Jesus is the Lord who will one day return to usher in that judgment Donít turn to it, but listen to these word from Rev 5 [v9]

    9And they sang a new song: " You are worthy to take the scroll
    and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. 10You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth." 11Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12In a loud voice they sang: "Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and praise!"

    Jesus is the Lord. God the Son. There is only One true God. One God in three persons, Father Son and HS. And heís coming back on Judgement day. And so His truly converted people should not only sing his praises in church, but go out and tell the whole world, starting here in [Dunswell/ Riverside]. So letís ask for His help before we sing new songs of worship. Letís pray.

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