A Song for the Lord’s Day

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on January 12

Psalms 92

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 92. You’ll notice that the psalm is titled, “A Song for the Sabbath” and that will perhaps clue you in that the last four letters of my sermon title did not appear in the text. Not “A Song for the Lord” but “A Song for the Lord’s Day” is the sermon title. And that makes perfect sense in light of not only ruling elder Bill Stone’s prayer, but the text that is in front of us tonight. This is a song for believers delighting in God and His works on His day. 

If Psalm 90 is for pilgrims – they don’t have a home but God is their home. If Psalm 91 is for danger – you’re in danger but God is your shelter. Then Psalm 92 is a psalm for worship – your delight is not in the world considered apart from God, but your delight is in the God who created the world and everything in it. And so you delight in Him and His works on His day. Now let’s pray and ask the Lord’s help and blessing as we read His Word together in Psalm 92. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your Law, that by Your Holy Spirit we would understand and believe and do Your truth, by Your grace. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it in Psalm 92:

“A Psalm. A Song for the Sabbath.

It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep! The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this:  that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever; but you, O Lord, are on high forever. For behold, your enemies, O Lord, for behold, your enemies shall perish; all evildoers shall be scattered.

But you have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox; you have poured over me fresh oil. My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

We are bombarded on every side by an outlook and an attitude that so enjoys the blessings of this life that we do not attend to the blessings of the life to come or to the Giver of the real gifts, the real blessings of this life and the life to come. That is, we are tempted to enjoy God’s world without the God who made the world and instead of the God who made this world and to think that this is all there is and this is where there is delight. This song, this psalm is about rewiring us. To realize that real delight is in God, real delight is in God’s works, true joy, true gladness, true goodness, the greatest goodness, the greatest good that we can experience is delight in God and His works.

An Exhortation to Public Lord’s Day Worship

And I’d like to see two or three things with you in the passage tonight. It’s a little hard to outline, frankly, but let me point you to three things that you’ll find in three different sections of the psalm. Look at, first of all, at verses 1 to 4. Verses 1 to 4 give us an exhortation to public Lord’s Day worship. The psalm is called “A Song for the Sabbath,” it’s the only one that’s called that, so it’s clearly intended for the use of God’s people on the day of worship. And notice how the song begins by exhortation. Somebody, maybe a Levite or maybe another member of the congregation is enjoining, is exhorting the rest of the congregation to delight in God and in His works. Listen to the language. “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” So there’s an acknowledgement that it is good to give praises to God. The end of the sentence eventually addresses itself to God, “Your name, Most High,” but the beginning of the sentence seems to be an exhortation to fellow worshippers – “It’s good to do what we’ve gathered here to do. It’s good to give thanks to Your name, O Most High.”

Then it goes on – “to declare Your steadfast love in the morning and Your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For You, O Lord, have made me glad by Your work; at the works of Your hands I sing for joy.” So though the whole of the first four verses have a Godward movement, they’re lifted up to God in praise, there is an aspect of those verses in which we are speaking to one another, reminding one another that it is good to bless the Lord, to praise the Lord, to delight in the Lord and His works.

And friends, we need that. Have you noticed how many of the psalms do that? Of course there are many songs that directly address the Lord. The great hallelujah songs at the end of the Psalter just go right into the business of praising God, directly addressing Him. But many of the psalms, we are addressing one another, exhorting one another to worship God. Why? Because sometimes we bring hearts together to God’s house that aren’t ready to worship and delight in the Lord and we need one another’s help to be stirred up to worship the Lord. And so what we see here is the psalmist encouraging and testifying to the congregation of the goodness, the gladness, and the joy of the Lord’s Day. It is “a day of rest and gladness,” we sing. It is “a market day of the soul” as the Puritans used to say. Or in Isaac Watts’ words, “sweet is the work, my God, my King, to praise Thy name give thanks and sing.” It’s a sweet work; it’s a delightful work. It’s a joyful work; it’s a good work. It is good to delight in the Lord. And we need to testify to one another to that.

I had the joy of a lunch with your pastor this last week and one of the things we were talking about is a statistic that’s being thrown around – because I travel all over the place I see with my own eyes – and here’s the statistic. On average, regular attenders of worship services, in churches in the United States, attend church somewhere between once and twice a month. Regular attenders, on average, attend church once or twice a month. That is a huge change in our culture and there are a lot of reasons for it. I think you will remember towards the end of my time here I began to see that even here, but boy when I’m in other places I see it even more. In other words, clearly, for whatever reason, more and more professing Christians do not seem to think that it is good and glad and joyful and delighting to the soul to gather to delight in God and His works on His day. And so the psalmist is exhorting, he’s exhorting the congregation that it’s good to do this.

And we need to do this with one another. I’m not fussing at you. I mean, good grief, you’re here on Sunday night, okay! I’m not fussing at you. I’m wanting to ask you – you be an encouragement to the people of God. Share the blessing that it is to worship the Lord on the Lord’s Day. I was thinking this afternoon one of the great blessings that First Presbyterian Church gave to me for seventeen years is you made me be in the Word of the Lord every Lord’s Day – well, forty-six to fifty weeks out of every year – all day on the Lord’s Day. I was in the Word from the time I got up in the morning till the time I went to bed at night just because of the job I had as the shepherd of this congregation. And I can tell you this, I guarantee you it was a greater blessing to me than it was to you. And let me say, because of the job that I have now, I know the blessing that that was for me to be in one place, the same place, week after week; not itinerating here and there and everywhere, hither, tither and yon; one place this week and one place the next week, but in one place with one people in God’s Word worshiping the one, true and living God. That was good for my soul.

I was also thinking this afternoon that though I have certainly been blessed over the course of my Christian life in things like conferences – pastors conferences, Bible conferences, youth conferences – I have indeed been blessed in those kinds of situations at different points in my life over the years of my Christian walk, but I think the things that have struck me most and have stuck with me are things that happened on the Lord’s Day in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people under the Lord’s Word, Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day – Sunday – delighting in the Lord. 

I can remember being in First Presbyterian Church Columbia, South Carolina when Sinclair Ferguson was the pastor there. And it was a Sunday evening and he got up in the service and he said, “What is going to happen here in the next hour or so will never happen again in the history of the world. Never will this group of people be gathered under this Word in this place the same away again. It happens once and it will be gone.” And what – a lot of things hit me thinking about that. One was, I thought, “What a wonderful way for a pastor to explain how significant it is to be together in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day. Great way to explain that.” Anne’s pastor Glen Knecht used to say, “The sermon you missed is the sermon you need.” Right? So that’s another way of going at it! But Sinclair is doing the same kind of thing. This is why it’s good to be together in the Lord.

The other thing that hit me was this. That happens every Lord’s Day – what he talked about that night happens every Lord’s Day at every worship service, morning and evening. And it often passes right by our mind unnoticed. And here’s the psalmist exhorting you to enjoy and delight in, realizing that it’s good and glad and joyful to delight in the Lord and His works. So that’s the first thing I want you to notice in this psalm. Let’s encourage and testify to one another of the goodness and gladness and joy of worshiping the Lord on the Lord’s Day. And don’t miss verse 2 – “to declare Your steadfast love in the morning and Your faithfulness by night.” What does that do? It just keeps the whole of the Lord’s Day the Lord’s Day. It’s the whole of the Lord’s Day, morning and night. 

Delight in God Not Just in His Works

Now secondly, look at verses 5 to 9. In contrast to the believer looking at God’s works and delighting in God, the unbeliever looks at God’s works and doesn’t delight in God. Look at the language of verse 5. “How great are Your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” Now what’s going to happen in the next two sentences or two sentence fragments will not be name calling. So young people who are still in the congregation, you don’t get to call people the names that are used in this sentence because name calling is not going on here. These words are being used very, very carefully by the psalmist. “The stupid man cannot know; the fool cannot understand this.” The psalmist is not name calling. He’s talking about people who can look at the works of God and not delight in the God who made those works. He’s talking about people who can look at the works of God and not delight in the God who made those works. And here’s the thing. Unless God opens your eyes, that’s all of us. Unless God opens your eyes, that’s all of us. 

I had a physics teacher in university who had become a believer. And it really showed when he was teaching physics because everything was a matter of wonder. You know, every day in class it was like, “Can you believe that? Can you believe that the world is like this? Wow!” No cynicism, a recognition that this world is amazing because it’s created by a God who is even more amazing, so the study of the works of God in this world become an act of worship. By the way, for every student in here, whether you are studying physics or biology or chemistry or history, everything we study ought to be studied in that same attitude because God’s works of creation and providence, as well as redemption, are all matters for worship. So every course of study, whether you’re in medical school – worship! Law school – worship! Even dental school – worship! 

And then, notice what he says. “The fool cannot understand this: that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever.” What is it especially that leads the psalmist to describe some people as stupid and foolish? Because they do not reckon with God’s judgment. They live life not reckoning with God’s judgment. Because they do not look at the works, the amazing works of this world and give praise to God, they live without any sense of accountability to God or any expectation of judgment. They think that this is just going to go on and on and there’s never going to be a reckoning. Only God the Holy Spirit can help you understand that and the natural man does not understand that. He doesn't tie the works of God to God and he doesn’t think that the delights of this life will ever end, or at least that there will ever be any reckoning with God. And therefore the psalmist calls him “stupid” and “foolish.” Not name calling. That is a moral declaration of the state of that person’s heart.

And the psalmist, by contrast, notice again, “How great are Your works, O Lord!” Now that phrase has already occurred back in verse 5, “At the works of Your hands I sing for joy.” Since this is a song for the Sabbath, I think especially he’s thinking here of God’s works in creation. What does God do? He creates the world in six days; on the seventh day He rests. Before He rests He says of the world it was “very good.” He rests not because He needs rests; He rests because we need rest. But when we rest, we are resting from our work so that we may praise Him for His. So the psalmist says, “These people look at the works of God and they don’t come away praising Him.” 

I love what William Swan Plummer says about the creation. He goes on in a paragraph about how we ought to praise God for every aspect of creation and he talks about the various animals and the insects and he just goes through all different aspects of creation that we ought to praise God for. Then he says this. “All men and all angels together could not have created a grasshopper.” All men and all angels together could not have created a grasshopper. And so we ought to praise God for grasshoppers is the point! But the foolish, the stupid man, never sees the connection between God and His works or the reckoning that is going to be for those who live without God in this world. Only God the Holy Spirit can open your eyes to that. That’s why people can study chemistry and biology and physics and be atheists. How can you study chemistry, biology and physics and be an atheist? You have to be blind! Right! Right! And only God the Holy Spirit can open your eyes to it. Only God the Holy Spirit can open your eyes to it. 

Delight in God to Flourish and Be Fruitful 

Third, look at verses 10 to 15. The psalmist now contrasts – you know, you get the wicked, evildoers, enemies, evildoers, all of these different people in verses 5 to 9. Then in verse 10 there’s this contrast between them and the people who delight in God and His works. Verse 11, “My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies; my ears have heard the doom of my evil assailants. The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of the Lord. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” So in contrast to those who do not delight in God and His works the righteous, He says, flourish and are fruitful. They flourish and are fruitful. So the secret of flourishing and fruitfulness in this world is delight in God and His works. So actually, one of the things that is happening when you gather on the Lord’s Day to worship God, is God is preparing you, equipping you to flourish and be fruitful in this world. Isn’t that interesting? You put aside your works to delight in His works and He prepares you to flourish and be fruitful because you put aside your works to delight in Him and His works. 

And I love how he emphasizes that this happens even in old age. “They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green.” In other words, he is saying your flourishing and your fruitfulness are not tied to the vigor of your physical body. Your physical body may be growing old and diminishing in its capacities; that does not, in the least, compromise your capacity to flourish and be fruitful. Grace does not die out in the soul. The longer it acts in the human spirit, the more vigorous it becomes in its operation. And that’s why that it is not true that as our bodies decay that grace decays in us. The real child of God grows in grace, even as the body decays. 

I love what John Owen says about this. He says, “There are two things which those who, after a long profession of the Gospel and are entering into the confines of eternity” – so they’re old enough that they realize that they’re standing on the edge of eternity and they’re about to step through that door – “There are two things that those who, after a long profession of the Gospel and are entering into the confines of eternity do long for and desire. One is that all their breeches may be repaired, their decays recovered, their backslidings be healed. For unto these things they have been less or more obnoxious in the course of their walking before God.” In other words, those are the things that have bothered them in the Christian life. You know, we can pray with the pastor the prayer for confession and hear the pastor’s words of pardon and we can still think about that thing that we did wrong twenty-five years ago or that thing we did wrong this morning and be grieved by our capacity to do those things. And Owen says as saints get ready to step through the door into eternity they long to be done and healed of those things.

And then he says, “The other is that they may have fresh springs of spiritual life and vigorous actings of all divine graces in spiritual-mindedness, holiness and fruitfulness, unto the praise of God, the honor of the Gospel, and their own peace and joy. These things they value more than all the world and all that is in it. About these things are their thoughts and contrivances exercised night and day.” So they’re not saying, “Lord, I wish I had made more money. I wish I had been more popular. I wish I had been more influential.” You know, you’ll never get to your last day and say, “I wish I had gone to church less. I wish I had read my Bible less. I wish I had memorized less Scripture. I wish I had borne less of the fruit of the Spirit. I wish I had sinned more.” Nobody says those things. You want to sin less and you want to have more fruit of the Spirit! And what Owen is saying is, “See what the hearts of saints on the verge of glory think about.” They want God to be operative in them. They want to live for God fully. And God has given you a day which is designed to cause that to happen in you. 

I was listening to a lecture that was given several months ago by a Christian on how to help people who are struggling with pornography. And he said, one of the things that he said, was that we now know that pornography literally rewires the brain. Well, delight in God and His works in the Lord’s house with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s Day is God’s way of rewiring your brain in a good way. And it’s practice for what’s to come. I believe that we will sing this psalm on the Sabbath that is spoken of in Hebrews 4, the eternal Sabbath, and we will sing it with sin no more and trials no more and pain no more and we will say, “There’s nothing like Your works, O God, especially Your work of redemption that You have accomplished by Jesus Christ!” Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, give us a delight in Your day, in Your Word, in Your house, with Your people. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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