Psalm 96

This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on July 22nd, 2007.  To listen to the audio, just click on this link – Ps 96.


In its original setting (I Chronicles 16), this psalm celebrated the move of the Ark of the Covenant, and by extension, God’s gracious presence, to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem. It praised God for rescuing Israel from its enemies and looked forward to his just, healing rule over all creation. For us today, it takes on even more excitement as we celebrate the new thing God has done in Christ. It calls us to worship, challenges us to focus our worship on God, and gives us a glimpse of what He will do in the future.


Celebrate God Who Makes Us Able to Worship Him

Again and again (verses 1, 2, 3), David calls on his hearers to praise the LORD and to tell everyone what God has done.  This includes the miraculous events of rescuing Israel from Egyptian slavery, bringing them to a good land, and giving them victory over their enemies—most recently, the Philistines. God has kept the promises that he made to Abraham, Jacob, Moses, and David. By bringing about this “salvation” (verse 2) he has shown himself to be not only the most powerful God, but also the most faithful. Now he is coming to be with his people in an even more specific way, coming to the very center of Israelite life—the new capital of Jerusalem. It’s a time to celebrate, and David wants every nation—the Gentiles as well as the Israelites—to hear about it.

So far, so good. But as you may know, both David and all Israel went on to be failed worshipers again and again…even with God’s presence right there in the temple! If they could not do it, what chance do we Gentiles, we “nations,” have of joining in the praise of God? None! But God promised to be the God of the nations as well, and eventually he came as a human, in the person of Jesus who walked among people, lived before God in a perfect way that we never could, and took on himself the punishment that anti-God rebels like David, and we, deserve! And when he returned to his Father, Jesus didn’t leave us alone: he left his very own Spirit, the Holy Spirit, to live in us in a much more intimate way than most Old Testament people ever got to experience! This Spirit enables us to worship God from the heart.

At times we may feel unable to praise God, to our neighbors or even to ourselves. But we can remember, even at such times, that God himself is within us…the Holy Spirit, who lives in all those who belong to Christ, will help us to worship and to proclaim God’s goodness. We must pray, confessing that we are not the worshipers or proclaimers that we should be. Realize that God forgives us of this, because of Christ, and ask the Holy Spirit to enliven our worship again. Repeat as often as necessary


Celebrate God Who is Far Better Than Our Idols

David does more than just list some of God’s past deeds. In verses 4-9 he invites his hearers to worship by contrasting God with the idol-gods whom the nations worship. We, too, need to hear this, since we are often guilty of serving things less worthy than God.

David says (v. 4) that the LORD is great and deserves great praise; that he is to be feared (or “held in awe”) above all other gods. He affirms that the gods of the peoples are “worthless idols.” They are nothings, frauds. In contrast, our LORD made the heavens (and by extension, everything else)! He is infinitely more powerful than these fakers. Not only that, but he is surrounded by “beauty and strength” (verse 6). He’s not only lovely, or only strong; those who get to know him experience both his beautiful love and his transforming & saving power. Our proper response to him, David says, is to be awed by his greatness, to overflow with praise of him, and to offer him our resources (v. 8).

We are natural-born worshipers, and we tend to serve many different idols—many things of which we think, “I can’t live without _________.” Different people may find themselves snared by different ones: financial success, security for the future, our house or our business, pleasure, food, people’s approval, the love or approval of one particular person?  Whatever they are, they will claim (as the ancient idol-gods claimed) to bring you fulfillment and everything else you’d need, but they cannot keep their promises.

Examine yourself, not just once but as a regular habit: What are you most afraid to go without? What do you find yourself craving more than you want to obey the Lord? Confess to God that you find these things more attractive and fascinating than the idea of his rulership. Ask God to remind you of what he has done, and set that next to the weakness of your idols. This should help lead you into celebration.


Celebrate God Whose Reign Will Set the World Right

But this struggle against our God-replacements will not last forever. The final section of the psalm (verses 10-13) reminds us of the truth of the present, and then looks forward to the future when God will come openly to set the world right. It tells us to remind ourselves and those outside the church that God is in control: the world “is firmly established” and isn’t just careening wildly in whatever direction tomorrow’s news headlines imply.  God has a plan for the world, a good plan, and he isn’t going to drop us accidentally.

Then comes the finale: “He will judge the peoples in fairness.” Remember that “judge” has more layers in its biblical context than it does in modern English. It means not only to judge guilt and innocence (which God certainly will do) but also to establish justice and peace, and to end oppression (like the rescuer-judges in the Bible). This is what God will do one day, and the whole creation eagerly waits for it! Look at the over-the-top imagery in verses 11-12, where all nature joins in the praise choir: “let the heavens rejoice and the earth be glad! Let the sea and everything in it roar!  Let the field and everything in it exult! The trees of the forest will rejoice before Yahweh [the LORD]! Because he comes, he comes, to judge the earth. He will judge the world righteously and the peoples faithfully.” Notice how the text reassures us, multiple times, that God will rule rightly and fairly. We need this reassurance because we’ve never known a completely righteous authority: no parent, no king or president, no boss, no pastor has ever shown us fully what a completely fair authority would look like. So the psalmist reassures us that this Ruler is different!

How do we celebrate God’s reign? First, just as we through the Spirit have received the first taste of God’s presence, so we should help our neighbors experience a taste of God’s gracious kingdom: ministries like No Greater Love, Cross Gap, Heart to Heart, etc. are doing this, and deserve our support. Second, we remind ourselves and others (at church and during the week) that God is at work, in a world that often seems to be out of control. Most of all, though, we eagerly ask God for his kingdom to come soon, in our hearts and in this world.

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