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A Song for the Sabbath

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 29, 2008

Psalm 92:1-15

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 92. As we continue to work our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms, we come to this great Psalm of the Sabbath Day. We said, as we’ve been studying the Fourth Book of the Psalms together, that the Psalms teach us about what the true believer ought to experience in his or her life with God in a fallen world. The Psalms show us where our affections ought to be fixed, what our desires should be focused on. They tell us how a true believer reacts in different circumstances. They show us what it should feel like to be a Christian.

Last week, as we were looking at Psalm 91 we said that that Psalm was a Psalm for a time of danger, and it told us a lot about how a true believer responds in danger: in complete confidence in a loving and sovereign God, and in His comprehensive providence over every area of life.

Well, this Psalm is a Psalm for worship. You see that even in the title. It’s “A Song for the Sabbath,” and this Psalm teaches us how believers ought to approach the gathered public worship of God’s people Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. This Psalm teaches us that believers delight in God and that they delight in His day, and they delight in worshiping God with His people on His day.

This Psalm could be legitimately outlined in a number of different ways. I want to suggest a three-point outline to you today before we read God’s word, so that you can follow along with that outline in mind. If you look at verses 1-4, one of the things that we are going to learn there is what believers delight in. What is it that believers delight in? Verses 1-4 gives you the answer. Then in verses 5-9, we’re going to find out what unbelievers delight in. If verses 1-4 tell us what believers delight in, verses 5-9 tell us about what unbelievers delight in, about the consequences of that. Then finally, in verses 10-15, we’re going to learn the secret of flourishing in this life. Does that pique your interest? What’s the secret of flourishing in this life? Well, in verses 10-15, especially in verses 10 and 12, the psalmist tells us what the secret of flourishing in this life is. We’re going to look at those three things together today.

Before we read God’s holy word, let’s look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.

Lord, this is Your word, and so we ask that You would teach us from it. We pray, heavenly Father, that we would come to realize that the pursuit of Your glory is our greatest delight. We ask, O Lord, that You would teach us that it is impossible to glorify God without enjoying Him; that it is impossible to honor God as we ought unless we delight in Him more than anything else. Teach us that, O Lord, from Your word. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of God:

“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.

Believers delight in God and His day. That is a truth for both Old Testament saints and New Testament saints. This Psalm was called “A Song for the Sabbath,” that is, for the seventh-day Sabbath of Old Testament believers – that Saturday-appointed day of worship that believers in the old covenant enjoyed from the days of Moses until the day of Christ, where on Friday night at sundown until Saturday night at sundown, the whole day from evening to morning to afternoon they enjoyed rest and refreshment and the worship of God together. That day was a day of delight in God. There was a delight in that day because it was a day where you came together with the people of God to worship Him, and it is also true for the new covenant believer. The Christian delights in God and in His day, and this Psalm tells you why, and it tells you why in three parts.

It first addresses the question of what is the delight of the believer, and then negatively so that not only so that we would see in greater clarity and light the delight of the believer, but also to send a warning to all those whether they are in the household of faith (whether they’re a part of the congregation of the people of God and are tempted to drift away into the ways of the world and to be infected with its outlook and mindset), or whether to those who think that they are Christians but are not, and who shelter from time to time in churches and sit under the word but do not respond to it. It also gives this word of warning in verses 5-9 by focusing us on what unbelievers delight in and what the consequences of that are. And then, finally, it tells us what the secret of Christian flourishing is, and I’d like to look at those three things with you this morning.

I. What believers delight in.

First, as you look at verse 1-4, you learn very clearly here that public Lord’s Day worship is a sheer delight to the believer. Listen to the language of verses 1 and 4 especially: “It is good to give thanks to the Lord…” (and then verse 4) “…for, O Lord, You have made me glad by Your work.” This believer is not approaching the Lord’s Day and worship with dread. [‘Oh, no! Not another Lord’s Day! Oh, no! Not another Sunday worship service! Oh, that’s boring! Oh, I could be doing something interesting and stimulating and exciting and fun!’] No, this believer is not approaching worship and the Lord’s Day that way: he delights in it. “It’s a good thing to give thanks to the Lord. The Lord has made me glad by His work.” That’s the message of verses 1-4: public Lord’s Day worship is a sheer delight to the believer.

You understand, my friends, that it is my desire as your pastor – I know it’s the desire of your elders as your shepherds – it’s our desire that you would be not just regular, but faithful in attending Lord’s Day services morning and evening. We would desire that the whole congregation would be faithful and regular in the attendance of the Lord’s Day services, but as important as that is, it is equally important if not more important to us that you delight in your attendance in Lord’s Day services; that it is something that you don’t simply do out of habit or impulse; that it’s not simply something that you feel cowed into doing; that it’s not even something that you recognize is your duty (though it is), but is something that you positively delight in and long for, and look forward to.

The psalmist here is saying that it is a delight to his soul to even contemplate the public worship of the people of God on the Lord’s Day, and if that’s true for an Old Testament believer, how much more true ought that to be true for us?

Now there are two or three things that I want you to see just in passing before we get to the main point of this first section of the Psalm.

One is simply to explain why it is that we Christians have a Lord’s Day.

We have a Lord’s Day (and there’s a deep biblical argument for it that I can’t go into all the aspects and ramifications of now)…but we have a Lord’s Day because of this: first of all, when was the Sabbath created in the Old Testament? It was created long before Israel was around; it was created long before Moses was around; it was created before there was sin in this world. The Sabbath was created when Adam was without sin in the garden. God, in the creation of the world, rested on the seventh day of creation, and He did it, Moses tells us, not because He needed rest, but because we needed rest.

This is why Jesus says the Sabbath was created for man, not man for the Sabbath. In other words, Jesus is saying God created the Sabbath Day because you needed it. It’s not that He needed the rest; He rested because you need a rest. And so if the Sabbath was created, one day in seven, for rest and refreshment and delight in God, if that was created before there was sin in this world, let me ask you a question: Do you think that we need it less or more, now that we live in a sinful world? I think you know how I’m going to answer that. We need it more! If Adam needed it before there was sin in this world, how much more do we need that day of rest and gladness, one day in seven?

      But you say to me, ‘The Old Testament saints worshiped on the seventh day, from Friday night sundown to Saturday night sundown, and we Christians worship on Sunday, the first day of the week. Why the change?’ Well, there’s a very obvious reason. The Lord Jesus Christ, in Mark 2, says that He’s the Lord of the Sabbath, and He was raised again from the dead to create a – what? – a new creation on Sunday, the first day of the week, what we now call the Lord’s Day. And every time He meets with His disciples as they’re publicly assembled from that time on, in the book of Acts and in I Corinthians, guess what day it is? Sunday – the day of His resurrection.

In fact, in Revelation 1:10, John receives the revelation which we now call the book of Revelation – when? Well, he tells us. Revelation 1:10 – “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day.” And he knows that everybody is going to know exactly what he’s talking about; that is, that believers, because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the first day of the week, on Sunday, will gather for worship on the Lord’s Day, week after week. And God knows that it’s good for us. We need that rest and refreshment, and that delight in Him. So this Psalm reminds us of the basis of the Christian view of the Lord’s Day.

It also explains to us why we worship not only on Sunday morning and evening, but why Christians are called to worship God every morning that they wake up and every evening before they go to bed. Notice the phrase you read in verse 2: “…To declare Your steadfast love in the morning and Your faithfulness by night.”

This is not the only time in the Psalms, nor the only time in the Old Testament, that the writer of Scripture will talk about praising God in the morning and in the evening. Notice, not just on the morning of the Lord’s Day…not just on the morning and evening of the Sabbath Day…but the morning and evening of every day. This verse reminds us why every Christian ought to begin the day in communing with God and in worship of God, praying to Him, singing to Him, reading the word, hearing the word, feasting on the word morning and evening.

And the reason that we worship morning and evening on the Lord’s Day is that believers are supposed to be doing that every day of the week. And what better way to frame God’s day than to gather morning and evening and to worship Him? (And of course, it has the added benefit of keeping the Lord’s Day from becoming the Lord’s Morning or the Lord’s Hour. After all, the day belongs to the Lord!)

But there’s a third thing I would just notice in passing, and that is notice what this song is called. It’s the very heading that it’s given in your Bible. It’s called “A Psalm.” P-s-a-l-m. A Psalm.

Now, that word means in its origins to pluck or to play…it probably refers to one of the stringed instruments that would have been used in the Old Testament – maybe the harp, maybe the lyre, maybe something else, but some sort of a string instrument that would have been played. Originally that word just means to pluck or to play that instrument. It came to mean a song accompanied by instrumental music. I say that in passing simply to note that there have been wonderful Christians in history, and in Presbyterian history, who believe that we should not use instruments in worship; that we should only sing unaccompanied Psalms. I have worshiped with those dear friends, worshiped with them for many years…learned so much from them…appreciate them more than I can say. But it’s a little ironic, isn’t it, that you would sing unaccompanied to a Psalm, when a psalm means a song that is accompanied by a musical instrument? I simply point this out to say that what we do when we use musical instruments is in accord with what God has commanded in the word. If we are to sing Psalms to Him, that will entail the use of musical instruments. It’s not just something we do because we want to; we believe that it’s a biblical thing to do.

But here’s the main point that the psalmist wants you to learn in verses 1-4. It’s simply this: that it is not only right to worship God, it is good to worship God. The psalmist could have said “You ought to worship God. It is right to praise God.” Or, as Billy reminded us, He could have reminded us that “Praise the Lord” is not a request; it’s a command. He could have said, “You should…you ought…you must give thanks to the Lord.” But he doesn’t! He says, “It is good to praise the Lord.”

The emphasis in this is clear (from verse 4, where it says, “You have made me glad by Your work”) that it is a delightful thing for the believer to worship the Lord. It’s not just our duty, it’s our delight. We’re not just doing something that we ought to do; we’re doing something that we want to do with all our hearts! It is something that is deeply rooted in our desires. We desire it with every fiber of our being. We delight in God and in His worship.

The psalmist, you see, is saying that when we come to worship, we come not only to give Him the glory due His name, but we come to experience our deepest delight. And what is it that we come to get? What is it that is our deepest delight? Now I want you to pause, and I want you to think, because the answer to those two questions is one answer, and it’s one word. What is it that we come to get in worship? And what is it that is our deepest delight, our deepest desire, our greatest delight? And the answer is the same, and it’s one word to both of those things. But it is vital that we understand what’s going on, because in our culture for at least forty years now churches have looked around them and they have noticed that people are bored by worship services, and they don’t think they’re getting anything out of them. And very often, you know, you’ll talk to someone and they’ll say, “Well, you know, I didn’t get very much out of that worship service.”

Now we Presbyterians have lots of snappy responses ready to hand when people say things like that! We’re sort of the “worship police,” and so we’re ready to rebuke them quickly. We’re ready to tell them, “Well, if you didn’t get much out of it, you didn’t put much into it.” Or, “You know, last I checked, we didn’t have that worship service for you, we had it for God.” And we have all sorts of answers, and believe me, there are things to learn from those kinds of answers. We may not always give them in the most humble and helpful way, but there are things to be learned from them.

But it’s very important for us to think about this because what a lot of churches have done is they’ve decided that people have come to those services and they’re not getting something out of it. They have made sure that when they come to the service, they’re going to get something out of it. And the problem is, they do, but it’s the wrong thing.

This is a huge problem in the church today. People come to church…they get something out of it, but it’s the wrong thing. It’s not the thing that we gather for. It’s not what we’re supposed to come wanting to get. It’s not the thing that ought to be our greatest desire.

Many of you have heard R.C. Sproul talk about this. There was a young man who led a major change in the way the church has been done in the United States and North America, and even around the world over the last forty years, who did a survey and he found out that people – everybody he polled in the Chicago area – they either thought that church was boring or irrelevant. And so he said, ‘I’m going to change church so that it’s no longer boring and irrelevant.’ And he had this conversation with R.C. Sproul one day, and R.C. said, “When I look in my Bible and people encounter God, I see some of them tremble, I see some of them weep, and I see some of them die. But I never find any place in my Bible where people encounter the living God and go, “‘Ho-hum, that was kind of boring….’” So he said to my friend, “Could it be that the reason that they find church boring and irrelevant is that they come to church and either God was not there because His word was not honored and preached, His praises were not sung, He was not the focus of what was going on? Or, could it be that they came there and the reason they were bored is because they weren’t looking for God? They were looking for something else.”

The psalmist is going to talk about those kinds of people in verses 5-9, but understand what he’s telling us here. We…here’s the answer to the questions I told you to hold back on! What is it that we’re looking to get out of worship? GOD! That’s what we’re looking to get out of worship! When we come to worship, we want to commune with Him! We want to fellowship with Him. We want to know Him. We want to become like Him. We want to praise Him! We want to hear Him! What we want out of worship is GOD!

That’s all we have to offer here, is God, the most important thing in this world! We are not going to fill up this thing with other stuff. It’s about God! And if you don’t want God, you’re going to be bored here; but if you do want God and you’re bored here, I want you to ask yourself a question: Is it really God that you want? Because that’s all that we’re holding out. We’re holding out His word every time we can, we’re holding out His gospel every time we can. We’re saying find your deepest satisfaction in Him; find your greatest joy in Him; find your deepest delight in Him. Focus your desires on Him. Care more about Him than anything else in this world. We want you going out of this place saying,

 “‘Let goods and kindred go,

This mortal life also;

The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still.

His kingdom is forever!’…I value Him more than all of these things.”

That’s what worship is about…saying I care more about God than stuff; I care more about God than money; I care more about God than sex; I care more about God than power; I care more about God than popularity; I care more about God than anything or anybody in this world!

I was in a marriage counseling session with a young couple from this congregation just a few months ago. I always ask the question to the young woman, “Why do you want to marry this guy?” And she said a beautiful thing. She said – first thing out of her mouth…you could tell it was deep in her heart – she said, “Because he loves Jesus more than he loves me.” Oh! She understood that a man who really loves Jesus will be able to love her well, but she didn’t want to be married to a man who loved her more than he loved Jesus. And what was he saying?  The way he had related to her said to her, “I love Jesus more than anything.”

That’s what we’re coming to declare together on the Lord’s Day: that we care about God more than anything; that we delight in Jesus more than anything; that He’s our greatest treasure. You can take everything else away, but you can never take Him away; and if you take everything else away, we’ve still got everything in Him. That’s what worship is about.

And, my friends, a man who is ready to give up everything for something, doesn’t resent it when it comes time to think about that thing that he’s ready to give up everything for, to focus on that thing that he’s ready to give up everything for. You know, a man who would be ready to die for his wife and children wouldn’t resent it if you said, “Well, let’s spend some time talking about your wife and children.” “Oh, really? Let me tell you…!” No, what you delight in, you’re ready to spend yourself on...you’re ready to be prodigal. Think about the things that are your hobbies, things that you like to do. I love the way Billy Joseph asks this question: Those of you who are SEC football fans, have you ever had the feeling on Saturday, “Oh, no…I have to go to the football game….” No. You delight in it! You don’t have to go to the football game; you want to go to the football game!

God is an infinitely greater delight…. God is an infinitely greater delight, and so the attitude of the believer is “Have to? I get to! This is what I want to do more than anything else in the world! He’s my delight. That’s where I want to be.” He’s a believer who delights in God. And what does he get out of it? God.

II. What the unbeliever delights in.

Verses 5 -9 tell us what the unbeliever is delighting in, what the unbeliever is worshiping. Verse 5 acknowledges that God’s works are great and His thoughts are deep, but does the unbeliever catch that? Does he get anything out of that? Nope. Listen to what he says  (verse 6):

“The stupid man cannot know;

The fool cannot understand this….”

Let me just pause right now. Young people, some of you here today, your Moms and Dads have told you, “Don’t you use words like that!” and they’re right. You listen to your Moms and Dads when they tell you don’t call somebody stupid, don’t call someone a fool. You listen to what your Moms and your Dads say. Shouldn’t do that. Jesus actually talks about this. He says you are in serious trouble if you use language like that that is designed to hurt another human being created in the image of God. You’re in serious trouble. So, young people, you may be saying, “Well, then, why do Mom and Dad say that I can’t say what God just said in Psalm 92:6?”

I’ll tell you why. Because God never uses this language in such a way to try and harm a human being. Whenever He uses this language, He is using it in deadly earnest to try and save someone from the eternal destruction of their soul. He is saying it with all the passion, all the compassion, all the love that you can possibly conceive; He is saying if you live life for the stuff of this life, if you look at the works of God and say, ‘That’s great; I’d like to have some more of that,’ and you care more about the works of God and the gifts of God than you do about God, and you’re in love with the stuff of this life which is going to pass away and burn up, and you don’t love God more than that, then you are facing an eternity of separation from God, cast along with the devil and his angels into hell. That’s why God uses these strong words:

             “The stupid man cannot know;

            The fool cannot understand this:

            That thought he wicked sprout like grass

            And all evildoers flourish,

            They are doomed to destruction forever.”

Jesus talks about this, doesn’t He, in Luke 12. He talks about a very rich man who had a lot of stuff. He had so much stuff that he had to build new barns to hold all the stuff that he had. Oops! Small miscalculation! Day comes…he dies. He has to give an account for his life to God, and all that stuff is gone. And he’s lived for himself and he’s lived for the stuff, but he’s never lived for God, and he’s cast away. Jesus warns about just this kind of person.

These are people who delight in stuff that’s not going to last. They look at God’s works, and instead of praising Him and being thankful for Him and caring about Him more than they care about His gifts and His works and the stuff of this world, they care about the stuff. And they focus on the stuff, and they get their meaning and their security from the stuff. But they don’t love God, they don’t delight in God, they don’t worship God; they delight in their stuff.

I love the story that John Ortberg tells about this. I’ve told some of you the story before. When John Ortberg was a little boy, he for the first time played Monopoly™ with his grandmother. And she clobbered him! I mean, she just smeared him, because he wanted to hang on to his money. He didn’t want to give that money up. And you know the name of the game in Monopoly is acquisition: you’ve got to spend that money, get that property so you can make other people pay more than you have to pay. And so for the first number of years that he played Monopoly with his grandmother, she just clobbered him. And then one summer, all summer long he played Monopoly every day with a boy who was a neighborhood friend, and he learned the trick of the game and he could not wait to play his grandmother the next time! So, when the fall came and he went to his grandmother’s house, the first thing he wanted to do was get that Monopoly board out! And he got it out and he set up the pieces, and he began to ruthlessly divest her of every dime she had [laughter]…with relish! And he said, “I can still remember the moment: it was Madison Avenue, when I took her last dollar from her. And I had pulverized her into bankruptcy! And she said, ‘You have learned how to play the game, John. Now you have one more lesson to learn. When the game is over, it all goes back in the box.’” And he said, “I didn’t want it to go back in the box! I wanted to bronze that board right there, with all my properties around that board, memorialize it forever: ‘Here John slaughtered his grandmother.’” [Laughter]

You see, that’s how a lot of people live life. They want to bronze the board, but it’s all going back in the box.

The psalmist is saying here’s what the fool does. Here’s what the stupid man does. He thinks that he can bronze the board and keep it forever, and that he’s won the game. But it’s all going back in the box. And if he hasn’t delighted in God more than stuff, if he hasn’t wanted the Giver more than the gifts, then the only thing awaiting him is judgment in hell. That’s what Jesus says. Loving, kind, wonderful, saving Jesus says that not because He wants to guilt-manipulate you, not because He wants to frighten you; because He wants you to be with Him forever.

And friends, if that’s you, if you’re living for the stuff that’s all going to go back in the box, you only have one hope today, and that hope is to flee in faith to Jesus Christ, to trust Him for your salvation, to reject your self-centeredness, to turn your back on your self-serving and your delight in stuff that’s all going to go back in the box, and to trust in the One who is the same yesterday, today, and yes, forever; and to rest on Him for salvation as He is offered in the gospel, because He’s the only thing in this world worth delighting in, because He’ll last forever and you’ll never get tired of Him.

III. Delighting in God is the secret of life.

There’s one last thing. You see it in verses 10-15. It’s not just that the believer delights in God, it’s that you learn this amazing secret that delighting in God is the secret of flourishing in life. Delighting in the Lord is the secret of Christian flourishing. Look at verse 10 and 12:

“You have exalted my horn like that of the wild ox;

You have poured over me fresh oil.”

[Verse 12] –

“The righteous flourish like the palm tree

And grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”

It’s a picture of fruitfulness. You understand, the psalmist is not saying, ‘It’s pie in the sky by and by; we’re going to have a rough time here, guys, but it’s going to be great then.’ He’s saying, ‘Let me tell you what. In the midst of all this world with the unbeliever, with the foolish man, seeming to flourish, let me tell you who really flourishes. The person who really flourishes in this life is the person who delights in God, because God anoints their heads with fresh oil and causes them to flourish like the palm tree, and grow like the cedar of Lebanon to show, to demonstrate, that the Lord is upright. It’s not just that they say the Lord is upright: they will demonstrate that the Lord is upright.

Now does that mean that we’re all going to have strong healthy bodies on the day that we die? Does that mean that a godly woman won’t see her body wither away under the relentless effects of disease? No. But even then there will be flourishing.

Let me give you two examples. Moses himself (Deuteronomy 34:7)…do you remember how God describes him on the day he died? Listen to this, folks! Deuteronomy 34:7 – “Moses was 120 years old the day he died, and his eyes were undimmed and his vigor unabated.” But then, on the other hand, David was weak and feeble when he died. But God caused them both to flourish. And John…John the Apostle, who wrote the book of Revelation…right before he says, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day,” do you remember what he says [verse 9]? He was imprisoned on Patmos. He was old. It was the year A.D. 95 when he wrote the book…I don’t know how old he was, but he was old, and he was imprisoned, and he was presumably in poor health, and yet he flourished. What does Paul say? II Corinthians 4:16 –

“We do not lose heart, for though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day.”

The righteous flourished, even in this life, in ways that unbelievers cannot possibly conceive, because their delight is in the Lord their God, and He causes them to flourish like palm trees—even in the wilderness.

May God bless His word. Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for the Bible, and we thank You for yourself. And we pray that we would delight in You according to Your word more than anything else in this world. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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