The Lord's Day EveningFebruary 15, 2009
Missions Conference 2009
“Getting Excited About Missions”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Please turn with me in your Bibles to Psalm 47. With our Missions Week now impending, this evening I thought we would look at this Psalm with a view to getting excited about missions because, as we will see in the Psalm, God is all about missions; as we will see in this Psalm, it is at the heart of every true believer to be as excited about missions as God is excited about missions. Before we read the Psalm together, let's look to God in prayer.
Lord our God, we bow once again in Your presence. We would be still and know that You are God. We come to thank You for the Scripture. Every jot and tittle of it, every syllable, every word, every sentence, every chapter, every book that it contains…all of it given by the out-breathing of God, and profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction, and instruction in the way of righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Now bless us, we pray. Come, Holy Spirit; grant illumination as we read this Psalm together. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
TO THE CHOIRMASTER. A PSALM OF THE SONS OF KORAH.
“Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
A great king over all the earth.
He subdued peoples under us,
And nations under our feet.
He chose our heritage for us,
The pride of Jacob whom He loves. Selah
“God has gone up with a shout,
The Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
Sing praises to God, sing praises!
Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
For God is the King of all the earth;
Sing praises with a psalm!
“God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.
The princes of the peoples gather
As the people of the God of Abraham.
For the shields of the earth belong to God;
He is highly exalted!”
Amen. May God bless to us that reading of His word.
This is one of the great songs in the Psalter, one of the kingship Psalms, sometimes thought to be depicting a ritual that may have taken place in the devotional religious ceremonial life of Israel when the king was enthroned, and perhaps services were held in the temple recalling the enthronement of the king. Whether that's true or not, this is definitely a Psalm that sings of the enthronement of God as King. It echoes sentiments in Psalm 46. It's similar, you might recall, to some of those Psalms right at the end before you come to Psalm 100 — Psalms 93, 96, 97, 98, and 99. All of those Psalms are very similar to this Psalm, extolling the kingship and rule and reign of God.
There's a cinematic technique that always amazes me when I see it, where a camera will start with a wide-angle lens and you’ll see an enormous vista. And as the movie progresses, that scene gets more and more into focus and zooms in and in and in, and eventually that picture will pass through a window, and without a break in the movie the camera all of a sudden seems to be on the inside, and now moving around in the building. Perhaps you’re familiar with what I mean. Imagine that in the reverse, because in this Psalm you have a picture of hands clapping in the temple, worshipers of Israel giving praises to God, but it focuses and zooms outwards and outwards and outwards taking in the whole of Israel, and then all of a sudden nations of the world are joining in the praises of God. It's about catching a vision…catching a vision for missions…catching a vision for the redemptive purposes of God…catching a vision for what it's all about, what history is all about, what this world is all about, where this world is going; that the agenda ultimately is not determined by acts of Congress or bills of Senate or Presidential speeches, but by a sovereign God who rules and reigns and has a plan and a purpose.
In 1627 through to 1640, that thirteen-year window in the seventeenth century, something in the region of 15,000 Puritans left the shores of Britain (predominantly England) and came to New England. The seal of the Colonists at Massachusetts Bay was Acts 16:9 — “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Among them was a man by the name of John Eliot. John Eliot was 27 years of age. He was ordained to the gospel ministry at a place called Roxbury, a mile or two outside of Boston. Thirteen years later, at the age of forty, he became convicted by the 23 tribes of Indians — “nations,” he called them. They were individual tribes speaking individual languages, with an individual culture. He would spend the next 44 years (until he was 84) working among those different Indian nations in New England — translating the Scriptures, preaching and teaching the word of God. It's an amazing story. Just one man who caught a vision for the nations of the world.
This Psalm is designed to get us excited about missions. I want us to see four things in this Psalm.
I. There is only one God, and He rules and reigns over all the nations.
The first thing — and it's the predominant thing, it's the obvious thing: this Psalm is about the rule and reign of God over the nations of the world; that there is only one God:
“Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High is to be feared,
A great King over all the earth.”
“God is the King of all the earth….”
“God reigns over the nations;
God sits on His holy throne.”
That's where the Psalm begins, with a great vision of God.
We live in a world that has dethroned God. We live in a world that is constantly marginalizing God. We live in a church world, an ecclesiastical world, that constantly marginalizes God. And this Psalm is saying God rules, God reigns, God sits upon a throne. Kingdoms may come and kingdoms may go, but God is, and He rules and He reigns. He's on a throne tonight. He's sitting on a majestic throne, and He has all power and all knowledge and all wisdom. He's everywhere present. He's the one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the only God there is. And He rules.
Imagine this Psalm at various points in the history of Israel. Imagine this Psalm being sung in the time of David, when David is surrounded by his enemies, when David is seeking to preserve his own life. He turns to this Psalm: ‘God rules; God reigns; God is in control.’
Imagine this Psalm in 701 B.C., when the Assyrians and Sennacherib had come and Sennacherib was threatening Jerusalem. You remember in Isaiah 36, 37, and 38, he sends letters — threatening letters: “Where is the king of Hamath, where is the king of Arpad?” (kings that he's conquered and overthrown) and he's taunting Hezekiah. You remember what Hezekiah does with that letter? He takes it into the temple and lays it before the Lord as if to say, ‘Lord, here it is. This is what Sennacherib is saying. This is what this earthly potentate, this earthly dictator is saying.’ God sits upon a throne. God rules. God reigns. God sits upon His holy throne.
Imagine this Psalm in the time of Jeremiah. In our Sunday School class this morning, we were looking at Jeremiah 32. Uncle Hanamel (we all have an “Uncle Mel” in our family) …Jeremiah had an Uncle Mel who wanted to sell him a piece of property, a sweet deal at a good price. The only problem is that the land was in Anathoth, and the Babylonians were in Anathoth and they were laying siege upon Jerusalem. In less than a year, Jerusalem would fall. And Jeremiah's uncle is trying to sell him a piece of property. Do you remember what God said? Let me remind you what God says to Jeremiah. He tells him to buy this piece of property. “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” God rules. God reigns. God sits upon His holy throne.
In 250 AD, the Roman Empire had been in existence for a thousand years, and it was falling apart at the seams. God rules. God sits upon His holy throne.
In our own century, we saw the rise of the Third Reich, proclaiming to be a force to contend with for a thousand years. Where is it now? It has gone the way of all flesh because God is King, because God rules, because God reigns. God is the only certainty there is.
Our history, our future, our lives are not determined by the acts of men, whether kings or presidents or dictators. Not even by democracy. They are ultimately determined by a sovereign God who sits upon a throne. What a vision! What a vision of a great, sovereign God! Is that what you need to hear tonight? Is your God too small? If you’re here and you’re concerned about this or that or the other…you’re concerned about your family, you’re concerned about your children, you’re concerned about your job, you’re concerned about your income… “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”
“Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared,
A great King over all the earth.”
I sometimes wonder when I hear us talk, you and I, about the forces abroad in the world today…the great forces of darkness and evil and malevolence. God is still King. He still rules. He still reigns. He hasn't lost His ancient power. That's where the Psalm begins, with a vision of a great God, a sovereign God. Let's remind ourselves of it.
II. Jesus Christ as Lord rules over the nations of the world.
But this is a Psalm not only about a God who rules over the nations, it's a Psalm about the rule of Christ over the nations. Who is this God who rules? Part of the answer to that is that it is Christ who rules. It's not without some significance that the early church read verse 5, and what do you think they thought of when they read “God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet”?
Of course, what the early church thought of was the ascension, the ascension of Jesus: “God has gone up with a shout;” God has risen from the dead. And into this Psalm, into this picture of a God who is in control and a God who rules and a God who holds the nations in the palms of His hands, the early church saw a picture of Christ. It's not just the rule of a powerful, determinative God, but the rule of a God who redeems and a God who saves, and a God who sends His own Son into the world on a rescue mission of sinners who otherwise would end up in hell — to redeem them, to call them unto Himself.
You see the climax in verse 9:
“The princes of the peoples gather
As the people of the God of Abraham.”
Isn't that beautiful? You see, this isn't just a picture of nations bowing unwillingly and acknowledging with grit in their teeth that God rules and reigns. There is coming a day when every man and every woman, everyone who has ever been and everyone who ever will be, will acknowledge that He is Lord. “Every knee shall bow, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Every tongue, and every knee, no matter who they are — even the reprobate will acknowledge His lordship. But that's not the vision here.
III. A Psalm about missions.
The vision here is “the princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham.” Imagine that! This tiny, insignificant little nation of Israel, and it's writing a Psalm under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and saying the nations of the world and the princes of those nations are going to one day bow, and they’re going to come not simply as the princes of the world but they’re going to come as the people of the God of Abraham. They have been converted, you see. They have been brought to Jesus Christ. They’re acknowledging that they’re part of the family of God: they’re part of the kingdom of God; they are the children of Abraham. That's a great picture, isn't it?
“I will build My church,” Jesus says at Caesarea Philippi. “I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” Not all the forces of darkness combined in all of their malevolence will prevail against the kingdom of God and the purposes of God in Jesus Christ.
What did Jesus say at the close of Matthew's Gospel? “All authority in heaven and earth is given unto Me.” As the risen and resurrected Lord, all authority in heaven and in earth is given unto Me.
That's the vision for missions, isn't it? “Go into all the world and make disciples of every creature”… “All authority is given to Me.” It's a picture of the Second Psalm. It's a picture of that pre-temporal covenant between the Father and the Son, and the Father is saying to the Son, “Ask of Me, and I will give You the uttermost parts of the world for Your inheritance.” And here's this Psalm seeing a future, seeing the nations of the world, seeing the princes of those nations, and they’re gathering now as the people of the children of Abraham. And they’re giving Him glory and they’re giving Him praise, and they’re giving Him worship. The nations are under His feet. The Mighty Victor has risen from the dead and defeated principalities and powers, and made a show of them openly in the cross:
“Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but [had] made himself of no reputation…and [had] humbled himself even to the point of death…. and God has highly exalted Him, and given to Him a name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
Oh, this isn't just a picture of the sovereignty of God. It's a picture of the rule and reign of King Jesus. Jesus sits on a throne tonight, and the ultimate course of this world and the ultimate course of history is not determined by those with political power — not in the ultimate sense. The ultimate course of history is determined by the decree of God.
Now catch that vision, friends. Catch the immensity of that vision. That's not the vision of CNN, nor is it the vision of Fox News. That's the vision of Scripture. That's the vision of God. That's the vision of the purpose of God, and God is calling us as His people to get into that vision, to catch a glimpse of that vision. That's what it's all about. It's a missionary Psalm. The nations assembled before Him as the people of the God of Abraham.
You see a little glimpse of it. You see a little glimpse of it at Pentecost. You remember at Pentecost, Luke is describing the scene as they gather for that festival in Jerusalem, and there are Parthians and Medes and Elamites and dwellers of Mesopotamia, and Judea and Cappadocia, and Pontus and Asia, and Phrygia and Pamphylia, and Egypt and parts of Libya. And what's Luke doing when he's giving you that list of nations that have gathered to Jerusalem? He wants you to catch a little glimpse of what will be. There at Pentecost, on the other side of Calvary, on the other side of the resurrection, on the other side of the ascension as the inaugural event of the pouring out of the Spirit and the fulfilling of God's plan of redemption — there you have that little cameo portrait in Jerusalem of what one day will be, in all of its fullness and in all of its splendor, and in all of its greatness: the nations of the world bowing down to the feet of Christ, and acknowledging themselves to be part of the peoples of the God of Abraham.
Do you believe it, my friends? Do you believe that? Do you believe that's possible? That out of every tribe and every tongue, and every people and every nation God will gather to himself this immense army of people?
Let me recommend to you parents in your family devotions…and if “family devotions” sends a shiver down your spine, let me sort of recommend something much easier to you. At mealtimes, when the family is gathered together for a meal — however infrequent that may be (that's another problem for another day) — but as you gather together for a meal, get a hold of something like Operation World, a little book with lists of facts and figures about various countries, various nations of the world.
Some of you watched this week — it did the email rounds…it was certainly sent my way — a YouTube video on current and future world trends. And you perhaps remember the opening segment of it. Do you remember what it said? “If you’re one in a million in China, there are 1300 people just like you. If you’re one in a million in India, there are 1100 people just like you.” It takes your breath away, doesn't it, to take in the sheer vastness of those numbers?
I'm told as of this week there are 1,569 “unengaged people groups;” that is, people groups where there are no missionaries of any kind, of any description…1,569 unengaged people groups in the world today. There are 6,747 “least reached groups;” that is, groups where of the population less than two percent have heard an adequate presentation of the gospel.
This is a missionary Psalm. It's meant to excite us about being caught up with God's mission, God's purpose, God's design in the world. Consider short-term missions. Consider joining one of the mission teams here in the church. Consider on a regular basis making praying for missions something that you do.
IV. This is a Psalm about worship.
You know…did you catch it? It's the fourth thing I want us to see. Not only is this a picture of God is King, not only is this a picture of Christ ruling and reigning, not only is this a missionary Psalm; did you notice the main thing here, how the Psalm actually begins?
“Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!”
It's about worship, isn't it? The vision is of missions, but the principal thing is about worship.
What is it that John Piper says all the time? That missions is not the ultimate thing; worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. God's aim, God's plan is not just to save people, but to save them in order that they might praise Him; to save them in order that they might worship Him and adore Him and glorify Him.
There's coming a day when there is going to be a new heavens and a new earth, and it will be populated by every conceivable nation and tribe and tongue and people, and every single one of them will be giving praise to God with shouts of joy and hallelujahs that will make Handel's Hallelujah! Chorus pale into insignificance by comparison. Now that's the vision.
You see, it's a determinative indicator of ourselves as Christians whether that vision excites us or not, isn't it? Here's a test tonight. Here's a challenge. Here's what I want you to go home and think about tonight and pray about: If that is what it's all about, if that's the main thing, if that's the principal thing, if that's the chief thing to get excited about, does it excite me? Does the thought of Missions Week at First Presbyterian grip you and excite you? That you — you! — are caught up in something that is at the very heart of God, because He only has one Son and He sent Him as a missionary? That's the closest thing to God's heart.
You call yourselves Christians, followers of Christ, servants of Christ, lovers of Christ. Does that do it for you? Is that it? Is that your vision? Is that your chief end? Is that what excites you? Because you were made for this. You were remade in Jesus Christ for this, to catch that vision.
Oh, Ligon tells us he loves this hymn, For All the Saints:
“The golden evening brightens in the west;
Soon, soon to faithful warriors comes their rest;
Sweet is the calm of paradise the blest,
“But lo! There breaks a yet more glorious day;
The saints triumphant rise in bright array;
The King of glory passes on His way.
“From earth's wide bounds, from ocean's farthest coast,
Through gates of pearl stream in the countless host,
Singing to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
That's the vision. That's the vision. Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, instill in our hearts now that vision of Your ultimate purpose in this world. We want to be a part of it. We want to be caught up in it. We want it to be the one thing for which we live, that we are soldiers of Christ, ambassadors of Christ here in this city. Father, we pray this week as we begin our emphasis on missions, particularly on Wednesday night and next Lord's Day, we want this place to be full, overflowing, demonstrating our impassioned love for what You love. Grant us, O Lord, tonight an all-consuming desire to be out and out for that main thing for which Christ came: to fulfill that covenant with Abraham, that through him the nations of the world will be blessed. Use us. Use us as channels for Your glory. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
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