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For the Lord's Renown!

Series: Psalms Book 5

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jul 1, 2012

Psalm Psalm 135:1-21

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn in them with me to Psalm 135 as we continue to make our way through the fifth book of the Psalms. Every verse of this psalm either echoes or quotes or is quoted by some other part of Scripture. The psalmist himself rummages through the inspired Scriptures of the Old Testament and pulls together themes out of the writings of Moses in Exodus and Deuteronomy, phrases from other psalms, and then other psalms turn around and quote this psalm and it's cited again elsewhere. It's filled with Scripture. It's a reminder that Scripture itself is perfectly capable of supplying us with all the material, the truth, the theology that we need to sing back to God in praise, to express our thanksgiving, to come before Him and bless His holy name.

As we look at this psalm tonight, I want you to be on the lookout for several things in particular. First, this psalm gives us several reasons why we ought to praise God. You’ll notice the first of them in verse 3. “The LORD is good.” The second of them is mentioned in verse 4. “The LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself.” And so election is given as a matter for praise in this psalm. Third - you’ll see this especially in verse 6 but look for it in the whole section running from verse 5 to 7 - is the truth that God is sovereign. And then in verses 8 to 12, fourth, this psalm tells us to praise God because He has saved us, He has redeemed us, He has defeated our enemies for us and brought us into the Promised Land.

The next thing you’ll notice in this psalm when we get to verses 15 to 18 is we have a declaration about the nothingness of idols. In fact, that forms the great contrast of this psalm. Our God is praiseworthy; the idols are nothing. Worshiping God because He is truly blessed will mean that you receive real blessing from Him. Worshiping the idols, because they are nothing, will leave you just like them. That's one of the great contrasts in this psalm. Be on the lookout for it as we get to verses 15 to 18. And then finally the psalm ends with a mutual exhortation to the praise of God. It almost feels antiphonal as if different parts of the congregation are singing to one another and giving an exhortation to praise the Lord. So be on the lookout for those things as we read God's Word, and before we do, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, there is no place we would rather be at the end of the Lord's Day than with Your people under Your Word. We thank You, O LORD, that it is our privilege to stand by night in the house of the Lord and lift up our hands to the holy place. And so we ask that You would come now and meet with us and bless us by Your means of grace and especially by Your Word read and proclaimed. Lord, speak deeply into our hearts and into our situations by Your truth. You know every encouragement and every discouragement in the heart of every person here tonight. You know every temptation and You know every virtue. You know every circumstance, both circumstances and situations that lead to despair and circumstances and situations that lead to joy. You know all of these things. And from before the foundation of the world You appointed this Word to be read tonight for the wellbeing of Your people. So Lord God, by Your Spirit, don't let us miss it. We know You have a word for us and that word is from Your Word. So speak it Lord; Your servants listen. And by Your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and ears and hearts to receive it. We ask it in Jesus' name, amen.

This is God's Word. Hear it. Psalm 135:

“Praise the LORD! Praise the name of the LORD, give praise, O servants of the LORD, who stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God! Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to His name, for it is pleasant! For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His own possession.

For I know that the LORD is great, and that our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps. He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from His storehouses.

He it was who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, both of man and of beast; who in your midst, O Egypt, sent signs and wonders against Pharaoh and all his servants; who struck down many nations and killed mighty kings, Sihon, king of the Amorites, and Og, king of Bashan, and all the kingdoms of Canaan, and gave their land as a heritage, a heritage to His people Israel.

Your name, O LORD, endures forever, Your renown, O LORD, throughout all ages. For the LORD will vindicate His people and have compassion on His servants.

The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!

O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD! O house of Levi, bless the LORD! You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD! Blessed be the LORD from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem! Praise the LORD!”

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

One of the enemies of praise is ingratitude. If we are not sufficiently grateful for who the Lord is, if we have not sufficiently grasped who the Lord is, if we are not grateful for who He is and for what He has done for us, our praise will be anemic and weak. And that is why all true worship is buttressed by truth, God's truth about God, for when we apprehend who He is, then we honor Him as we ought. And the exhortations of this psalm are designed to encourage true believers in true worship by setting before us things about our God and what He has done for us that motivate us to praise His name. And I want to look at a few of those things in this passage with you tonight.

The psalmist repeatedly praises the blessedness of our sovereign God and he contrasts the blessedness of our sovereign God with the emptiness of dead idols, and in so doing, gives a warning about the worship of idols in contrast to his encouragement of the worship of the true God. The psalm focuses our praise on four areas. I'd like to look at those four areas with you. It focuses our praise on God's goodness. We saw that in verse 3. “The LORD is good.” Secondly, it focuses our praise on God's election. We saw that in verse 4. “For the LORD has chosen Jacob.” It focuses us on God's sovereignty. Didn't you hear that ringing announcement of verse 6? “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does.” And it focuses us on His redemption. Notice in verses 8 to 12 where it recounts where the Lord has struck down all the enemies of His people and brought them into the Promised Land. I'd like to look at those four things with you for just a few moments.

THE LORD IS GOOD TO YOU

First, the psalmist urges us to praise the Lord because the Lord is good to you. Look again at verse 3. “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good; sing to His name, for it is pleasant!” “Praise the LORD, for the LORD is good.” Do you believe that? Do you feel that down to your bones? You know, that is a constant refrain in the psalms. If you look back at Psalm 52 verse 9 the psalmist there tells us that “the name of the LORD is good.” If you look forward to Psalm 147 verse 1, we're told that praising the Lord is good. But here in Psalm 135 verse 3 we're reminded that the Lord Himself is good. The very first temptation of the evil one against the human race was designed to promote a doubt in our souls that the Lord is good. And so it is not surprising that the beginning of true praise is in the full embrace of the goodness of God. And so the psalmist here says, “Praise the Lord, brothers and sisters, congregation of God's people! Praise the Lord because He is good, His name is good, He is good, and praising His name is good!”

Do you believe that the Lord is good? In your circumstances right now, do you believe that the Lord is good? That is one of the great challenges in life — to believe that He is good in any and every circumstance, especially the hard ones. But you know there are challenges in both good and bad circumstances. In good circumstances we are tempted to take our delight from the circumstances and not the One who gave us those circumstances. In bad circumstances we are tempted to doubt the goodness and the wisdom of the God who has put us in the middle of those circumstances. Job himself, Job himself announces those battles in his own experience. Job doesn't question whether God is in control; Job questions whether he can see the goodness of God in His control. And so here the psalmist urges us to praise the Lord because He is good. You can't do that unless you believe that, unless you know that, unless you feel that down to your bones. You’re not able to respond to that exhortation. And it means that we need to give ourselves to that study — to know that the Lord is good. There's the first thing that the psalmist says.

THE LORD CHOSE YOU

Secondly, he urges us to praise the Lord because of His election. The Lord chose you. Look again at verse 4. “For the LORD has chosen Jacob for Himself, Israel as His own possession.” It is a staggering thing, my friends, to think that the Lord has chosen you and chosen you for His own possession and His own heritage. On the basis of Scripture, in both the Old and New Testament, I can tell you, were you to draw near to the Lord in heaven tonight and were you to say to Him, “Lord, why is it, why is it that You did all this? What did You get out of this? What did You want out of the sending of Your Son into the world? What did You want out of His perfect life and His experience of the curse of sin and the pouring out of Your wrath on Him and His death and burial and resurrection? What was it that You wanted out of this plan which has stretched across all of human history from Adam to the very end of Your redemption? What is it that You wanted out of it?” The Scriptures, and this passage here, says that the Lord will look you in the eye and say, “What I wanted was you. I chose you and I chose you to be Mine, to belong to Me. You’re the inheritance that I want. You’re the heritage I want. You’re the possession I want. I'm going to give you everything in Christ, My Son, but what I want is you.”

Now my friends, if you’re even beginning to understand that it's got to take your breath away.

And we have wonderful hymns that help us wrestle with that truth. Would you turn with me to a couple of them? Turn with me to 466. This is an old hymn. It was found in the Southern Presbyterian Hymnal and it's found again here in our Trinity Hymnal. We don't even know who wrote it, but it's about this very subject of God's choosing us. Here's how the hymn writer puts it. “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Savior true; no, I was found of Thee.” The hymn writer is saying, “Jesus, I didn't find You; You found me.” And then turn forward to 469 - Isaac Watts’ great hymn, “How Sweet and Awesome Is the Place,” in the original, “How Sweet and Aweful Is the Place.” Aweful is a word for us that means something a little bit different usually now, but for Watts it meant to be something that filled you with awe; it was awe full. “How sweet and awesome is the place with Christ within the doors, while everlasting love displays the choicest of her stores! While all our hearts and all our songs join to admire the feast, each of us cries with thankful tongue, ‘Lord, why was I a guest?’” And the only answer that the song gives is that the same love that spread the feast that these guests were now enjoying had also drawn them in to enjoy that feast. God chose them.

You remember this morning where the apostle Paul in1 Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 7 speaks of the Lord calling us? That call is related to His choosing and to His election. And I love what one commentator says about that. “The apostle Paul, ever since his dramatic conversion, made much of the truth of God's calling, for he realized that the reason he was a believer was because God had called him, not that he had decided for God.” Do you revel in that truth that you wouldn't be a Christian if God hadn't chosen you, that you wouldn't be in glory forever if God had not set His love on you from before the foundation of the world? The psalmist is saying we need to praise God because we love Him because He first loved us. No one comes to the Son unless the Father draws him. He chose us and we're to praise the Lord.

THE LORD IS SOVERIEGN OVER EVERYTHING

There's a third thing here. You’ll see it again in verse 6. We praise the Lord because He's good, we praise the Lord because of His election, we praise the Lord because He is sovereign over everything for us. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps.” Have you ever heard in one sentence a more sweeping declaration of the sovereignty of God than that? “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does.” Do you know what the phrase is that is repeated more than any other phrase in The Westminster Confession of Faith? “It pleased the Lord.” It pleased the Lord. Over and over the divines emphasized that the Lord did what He pleased. Where did they get that idea? Well, from all of Scripture but one of the important places is right here in Psalm 135 verse 6. “Whatever the LORD pleases, He does.” He is absolutely sovereign in this world and that leads us to praise Him.

Talking with Henri Burnham and the children — Steve prayed for Henry and William and Spiller and Romney tonight in the Elder's Prayer. Talking to Henri Burnham before Bill had gone on to be with the Lord she said, “Our verse has been Romans 8:28. Our verse has been Romans 8:28.” And you understand that three of the five members of that family have had cancer, have battled cancer. Henri had just gone into remission when Bill was diagnosed. Romney's battled cancer. Three of the five members of that family. “Our verse is Romans 8:28 — God works all things together for good for those who love Him and who are called according to His purpose.” This is an Old Testament declaration of that truth that God does what He pleases, but the psalmist knows that what God pleases is always for the good of His people. And so he calls on us to praise the Lord because He's sovereign.

THE LORD SAVED YOU

Fourth, he calls on us to praise the Lord because He's saved us and he speaks of this dramatically in recounting the redemption of the children of Israel from Egypt. “It was He who struck down the firstborn of Egypt. It was He who defeated the Amorites and the Canaanites and gave you the land as your heritage and brought you across the Jordan and into that land. It was the Lord that redeemed you. It was the Lord who saved you.” And we're to praise the Lord for that.

Now in contrast, he says, “No understand that the idols,” verses 15 to 18, “the idols are nothing.” And he makes a very, very important statement that you need to dwell on for a few moments. “Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them!” The psalmist is saying who you worship determines what you become. Who you worship determines what you become. What you think of God, whether you worship the true God or a false God, will determine what you become. If you’ll turn in the bulletin to right below the words of “Before the Throne of God” there's a quote from A.W. Tozer who meditates on this very point almost a century ago. Tozer says:

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.

We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that comprise the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”

And the psalmist is warning us about that right now. You know, David Wells wrote a series of tremendous books starting with a volume called, No Place For Truth, in which he pressed home this fundamental idea - that God had become inconsequential for the evangelical church in America, that God had become inconsequential, weightless, for the Church in America. The psalmist is warning us about that. You either worship the true God and you know Him in all His glory, His goodness, His election, His sovereignty, His redemption, or you worship a God you've made up with your own minds. You may have never gone out and taken gold or silver and fashioned an idol and bowed down before it, but if you have created a god of your own invention you are no less an idolater, and no god but the true God is worthy of worship and no god but the true God is capable of satisfying you because you are made in the image of the one, true God and no substitute will do. And therefore, if you chose to worship an idol it will not lead you to be more; it will lead you to be less, to the point of nothingness. And so the psalmist says, “Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them.” Who you worship determines what you will become. And the psalmist is setting that challenge before you right now. Worship the true God. Know the true God. Be about the business of knowing who God is. How do you go about that business? You have to go to His Word because He tells you what He's like in the Word. He doesn't give us license to make it up as we go along. We go to Him, we go to His Word, we learn who He is from His Word, and we worship the true God, not a god of our own invention.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ENCOURAGING ONE ANOTHER TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP GOD

And then the psalm ends with these antiphonal exhortations. Do you see them in verses 19 and following? “O house of Israel, bless the LORD! O house of Aaron, bless the LORD! O house of Levi, bless the LORD! You who fear the LORD, bless the LORD! Blessed be the LORD from Zion, he who dwells in Jerusalem! Praise the LORD!” What's going on here? The singers of Israel, the congregation of Israel, the Levites and the priests and those who are attending the house of the Lord are all exhorting one another to praise the Lord. Do you understand the importance of our encouraging one another to the praise of God and to the worship of God because our hearts are sluggish, my friends? We don't praise Him as we ought.

William Plummer has a line, and I'm going to have to paraphrase this, in which he says: “It is a sad and convincing indictment of our falleness that the inspired authors of Scripture must constantly insight us to an activity to which we are criminally indisposed.” Now don't you love that sentence? Don't you wish you could write a sentence like that? And he goes on to say, “Surely the angels in heaven need no such exhortation to worship the One who created them.” Now you understand what Plummer is saying. Plummer is saying, “Why in the world do the authors of Scripture have to tell us over and over and over to worship God? Because we're fallen. We’re sinful, turned in on ourselves. We have a tendency to worship ourselves instead of worshiping God. But over and over, tell us they do. Over and over, exhort us they do.”

And my friends, we need to do that with one another. We need to exhort one another to worship. We need to encourage one another to worship. We need to incite one another to worship. Any time a brother or a sister in this congregation tells you the good news of God's providential provision for him or for her, it ought to be an opportunity for you to encourage that brother or sister to praise the living God. And when we are tempted by discouragement not to praise Him, then we need to come and encourage those brothers and sisters that we know and love the most and who know and love us the most with the words of Job, “Though He slay me, yet I will praise Him. The Lord gives, the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” “Not my will but Your will be done.” We ought always be encouraging one another in worship. And that's how this psalm ends. It's a psalm not just for the Levites, not just for the priests, not just for those who are officiating in the house of the Lord. It's a psalm for the whole congregation of God's people. Bless the Lord. Praise the Lord. For He is good and He has chosen us, He is sovereign and He saved us. And you know, if you go take a look at Jesus’ words from John 13 to John 17 in the Upper Room, He will remind His disciples of all of those truths on the night He was betrayed and He will encourage them. “In this world, you have trouble, but do not fear, do not be afraid, let not your heart be troubled, for I have overcome the world.” Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, we thank You for this, Your Word. We ask that You would make us a people of praise, ready to praise, ready to encourage one another to praise, truly understanding the matter, the truth, the substance that moves us to praise, willingly praising, praising according to Your truth, praising all the time, spreading Your renown from shore to shore. Do this in us by the work of Your Spirit. We ask it in Jesus' name, amen.

Would you stand for God's blessing?

Peace be to the brethren and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.

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