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Joy to the World

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 24, 2008

Psalm 98:1-9

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If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 98 as we continue to work our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms — Psalms 90-106. We've said repeatedly that the Psalms show us the anatomy of all parts of the Christian soul and they provide us language with which the believer can express the whole range of Christian experience. No matter what situation you are in in life this morning, no matter how many different situations are represented in the room today, there is language in the Psalms to lift your heart up with to the Lord.

We've been noticing that the Psalms 95-100 teach us repeatedly about worship, and the Psalm that we're going to study today is no different. Psalm 98 is yet another Psalm that teaches us about worship, but it also in particular points us to Jesus’ coming. Psalm 98, as I've already mentioned, is the Psalm on which Isaac Watts’ famous hymn which we so often sing at Christmas, Joy to the World, is based. No, it's not just a Christmas hymn, because this Psalm refers to both the first advent (Christmas) and the second advent of Christ (the Second Coming), and so it is a song about the coming of the Lord. Both His first and second coming are in view, and this is one reason why the Anglicans in their Book of Common Prayer have this Psalm as a part of their liturgy to be read between the evening Old Testament reading and the New Testament fulfillment reading that follows that reading, just to remind us of that prophecy of the coming of the Lord in the Old Testament and displayed beautifully here in Psalm 98.

Now the Psalm outlines easily into three parts. You’ll have noticed that especially if you’re using the ESV version. Verses 1-3, verses 4-6, verses 7-9 form the three parts of the Psalm. Verses 1-3 give us a call to sing a new song to the Lord. That's not just to sing a new melody or to sing a newly created musical creation to the Lord, although that's a perfectly good thing to do. It is a call to praise God for His special works of redemption, and so the first three verses give us the reasons. In fact, they’ll provide six reasons why we ought to sing this new song to the Lord.

Then verses 4-6 are a call to all the earth to join in on the praises of God. We've seen this in the last couple of Psalms. There's a universal call of praise.

And then finally verses 7-9 continue this universal call of praise, even calling upon the seas and rivers to join in on praising God. It's a little bit like Jesus saying ‘If these children don't praise Me, even the stones will cry out.’ Well, here in the Psalm the rivers and the sea will cry out praise to God. Why? Because of God's coming judgment. Now that's not something that we normally associate as a reason for praise, but you’ll understand it, I trust, by the time we get to the end of the song.

The judgment that is in view here is especially God's ruling or governing the world; not so much God's judging the wicked, although that's of course entailed in God's rule of the world; but it is the hope of every believer, Old Testament and New, that God will in the end win and rule this world. And it is that theme that is picked up in Isaac Watts’ wonderful paraphrase of this Psalm: “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King.” And then the rest of that song as Watts paraphrases it celebrates aspects of what? God's rule and reign over this whole world.

So those are the three parts of this Psalm. Now before we read God's word, let's look to Him in prayer and ask for His help and blessing in the reading and the receiving of His word.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for Your word, and we thank You for giving us the words that we need to worship You. Help us then to learn from this Your word and to render these words up to You with understanding and believing hearts. We ask that by Your Spirit You would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth from Your word, and that we would give You all the praise due to You for it, for we ask this prayer in Jesus' name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God from Psalm 98:

“A PSALM.
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done marvelous things!
His right hand and His holy arm have worked salvation for Him.
The Lord has made known His salvation;
He has revealed his righteousness in
The sight of the nations.
He has remembered His steadfast love and faithfulness
To the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
Break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
With the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
Make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
The world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
Let the hills sing for joy together before the Lord,
For He comes to judge the earth,
He will judge the world with righteousness,
And the people with equity.”

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

This Psalm, like some of the Psalms before it and some of the Psalms coming after it, teaches us much about the worship of God, and I want to draw your attention to four things that we learn about the worship of God from this Psalm today.

We learn them from the mode of this Psalm. By that I mean look at the lyrics, and look at the style or the direction of these lyrics. Ask yourself the question “Where are these lyrics directed?” We learn something about worship from looking at where these lyrics are directed.

Second, look at the object of worship in the lyrics of this Psalm. Who is the focus of the worship and the praise of this Psalm, and why? Third, look at the passion of the lyrics of this song. There is an exuberance to this song that teaches us something about worship.

And then, finally, look at the hope of this Psalm. What is the ground of all the hopes of God's people expressed in this Psalm? You see it especially at the end. Let's look at these four things together — the mode, the object, the passion, and the hope of this Psalm.

I. Christians should be full of praise to God.

We’ll start with the mode, and if you’ll look at verses 1-3 I think you’ll see very quickly what I'm talking about. The manner, or the style, or the direction of the lyrics in this Psalm are very interesting:

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
For He has done marvelous things.
His right hand and His holy arm
Have worked salvation for Him.”

Now look at the pronouns in that phrase. Are you talking to God, or are you talking about Him? Well, the pronouns have the direction of your conversation in talking about God. It seems that you are speaking to your fellow believers to exhort them to praise God about these things about God. It's very important that we pay attention to the pronouns that are used in the songs that we sing.

A number of years ago I had members of the congregation begin to ask me questions about our hymns and our songs. Why do our hymns and our psalms sometimes have us singing about God, and sometimes they have us singing to God? Let me give you some examples of this. Take your hymnals out, turn back to 168, your opening song of praise this morning, and notice the language:

“I greet thee, [I greet you] who my sure Redeemer art.”

Where is the direction of the lyric in that hymn? It is to God. It is a conversation going on between your soul and God. “I greet You, who my sure Redeemer art.”

Then look in your bulletin at The Gospel Song:

“Holy God in love became
Perfect man to bear my blame.
On the cross He took my sin;
By His death I live again.”

So there we're singing about God. And I've had friends over time ask why that is.

Well, for one reason, if you look at the Psalms, the Psalms do both. The Psalms ask us to sing about God and to God. Look in your Bibles back just one Psalm to Psalm 97, and look at verse 9. In Psalm 97 we have the same kind of language used from verses 1-8 and 10-12 as we have here in Psalm 98. Psalm 98 has us singing about God, and Psalm 97 does, too, except for this verse. Look at Psalm 97:9.

“For You, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
You are exalted far above all gods.”

And then listen to verse 10:

“O you who love the Lord, hate evil!”

So notice the direction. The lyrics are in verse 9 directed where? Straight to God. And then suddenly they’re directed where? Back to your fellow believers again.

Now some of you have asked me the question why is that, and some of you have even said, “Well, I prefer to sing directly to God. Why are we always singing about God? I would rather sing directly to God.” Well, there's a reason why we sing together about God, and it's simply this. Very often you and I come to the worship, the public worship of the living God, and our hearts aren't ready to praise Him. And what do we need? We need help and exhortation from one another. We need encouragement from one another to get our hearts ready to praise God. It is amazing how often that happens in the Psalms, it's amazing how often that happens in our hymnals, it's amazing how often that even happens in songs that have been written more recently than the songs in our hymnal. And it's very biblical and it's very appropriate, because sometimes we come to church are we're not ready to praise Him yet.

I'm not a morning person. That's why I have to be up at 5 a.m. on Sunday morning. That's why I have to have four cups of strongly brewed Starbucks® before I enter into the pulpit…and even then…. We were in South Carolina. I was preaching in another congregation, and so Ann had the burden of having to hear me twice on a Sunday morning rather than her normal once, and she heard the 8:30 service (which she doesn't normally hear) and she said, “Oooh, you were really struggling at the early service, weren't you?” I said, “Thank you, Ann, for that encouragement! Yes, I was!” And I had been up at my usual time, but it was just really hard to get going that morning. And sometimes…we were commenting the other day that sometimes you’re a little quieter at the 8:30 service than you are at the 11:00 service. Wonder why that is? Well, because it takes preparation to be ready to come before the Lord.

Well, one of the reasons that the Psalms have us addressing one another is to encourage and help and exhort one another in giving praise to God, but that doesn't mean that you’re not worshiping Him.

Let me prove that to you. If you’ll take your Bibles and turn to the very last book of the Bible and look at the fifth chapter of the book of Revelation…. We could look at a number of songs in Revelation, but I think this will do it. Revelation 5:9, 10: “They sang a new song…”

[Notice the new song of Revelation. That actually could be a sermon in and of itself. The new song that we're being asked to sing in Psalm 98 is this song. The new song that you’re being asked to sing in Psalm 98 is the song that we're about to read, but that's another sermon for another day.]

“Worthy are You to take the scroll and to open its seals,
For You were slain, and by Your blood
You ransomed people for God
From every tribe and language and people and nation,
And You have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
And they shall reign on the earth.”

Now this song, you will notice, with the language you, is directed towards God, and especially to the Lamb who has purchased by His blood sinners from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. So it is directed to God, but notice what the song does. It sings to the Redeemer about His redemption:

“You have ransomed people for God
From every tribe and language and people and nation,
And made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
And they shall reign on the earth.”

So notice there that even though you are singing about the Lamb and about God, you are singing to God about Him. And that encourages you that even when you’re singing a hymn which is not directly addressing God, or a song that is not directly addressing God, even when you’re singing about Him, you’re singing to Him about Him! And that serves the purpose of encouraging your brothers and sisters to believe these truths which ought to be the substance of our praise, and it serves to stoke your own heart to worship God as you ought. We need one another in the Christian life and in Christian worship, and the manner, the style, the direction of the lyrics, the mode of this Psalm teaches us why it is that we so often sing to one another about the Lord in our praise to the Lord. We are singing to the Lord when we sing about Him, when our language is about Him. That's one thing we learn about worship from this great Psalm.

II. The object of our worship.

But there's a second thing I want to draw your attention to, and that is the object of worship. We will not worship God and we will not want to worship God if we see no beauty and desirability in Him. We not want to worship God if we see no beauty or desirability in Him.

Look at verses 1-3 again. That's why six reasons are given for singing to the Lord a new song here: He's done marvelous things; His right hand and holy arm have worked salvation; He has made known His salvation; He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations; He has remembered His people with steadfast love; and, all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of the Lord. The psalmist piles up six reasons why we ought to worship God. Why? Because we will not even want to worship God if we do not see His beauty and desirability, and that is yet another reason why we exhort one another in our singing to worship Him. Because we need one another to be reminded of that.

Every Friday morning your ministers gather, and we meet to prepare for Sunday and for all the public services of the church. We also talk about pastoral care matters and other issues in the life of the church, but we begin that meeting with a devotional. I usually turn to Derek, and I say, “Derek, do you have something for us today?” and he shares a devotional. Now even though I know that I'm getting ready to meet with friends who I love to work with in ministry and we're getting ready to talk about the worship services of the church and the ministry of the church, things that I love, very often my heart is cold as a dead stone when that meeting begins. But Derek begins to share the words of those devotional comments on Scripture, and I’ll find my heart warmed and made more ready for the worship of the living God. And so also the psalmist, when he piles up all these things that God has done for us and all these things that God is, is giving us reason to want to worship God.

When we come to worship God, it is as if we are sitting down with our husband or our wife, or our dearest friend on earth, to have one of those conversations that is probably too infrequent in our lives: to say, ‘Dear one [my wife, my husband, my best friend], I don't say it often enough, but I want you to know how much I love you and how much I respect you, and how much I admire you, and how thankful I am that this that you are…or this that you have done.’ You know those conversations. It may be over a cup of coffee with a dear friend, and it's been many years since you've expressed to that friend how important he or she is to you. And you say, “Friend, I don't say it often enough, but I am thankful to God for you and I deeply admire you. You are one of the great encouragements in my life.” Maybe that conversation happens between husbands and wives. But when we come to worship God, that is what we're coming to declare: “Lord, You need to understand how much I love You and how much I respect You and regard You, and how I value You above everything else in the world.” But sometimes our hearts aren't ready to do that when we come to worship, and so our brothers and sisters in Christ gather around us and they hold before our eyes the beauty and desirability of the Lord. Maybe they give us a testimony to the beauty and desirability of the Lord as it's come to bear in their lives, and it moves us. It stokes the fires of our passion to worship the living God together. But here the object of worship is God in His beauty and desirability, and we will not be able to worship Him and we will not want to worship Him if we do not see that beauty and desirability in Him.

Then, thirdly, notice the passion of this Psalm. This Psalm is filled with the language of passion:

“Sing to the Lord a new song…make a joyful noise to the Lord…break forth in joyous song and sing praises…sing praise to the Lord with the lyre…and melody...and trumpets and horns…make joyful noise before the King! Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and all that dwell in it! Let the rivers clap their hands and the hills sing for joy together.”

There is passion in this song! Why? Because this psalmist has seen the salvation of God and it has made a deep impression upon his soul.

You know, when I was reading Isaiah 5 this week, I realized Isaiah's woes are directed at me. These are my sins that he's recounting. And when I sang with you, “Lord, like a publican I stand,” that was my confession to the Lord. And then when I sang with you The Gospel Song and began to think that those ugly sins that Isaiah condemned that were mine, Jesus took upon himself for me; and it cannot but make us passionate about praising Him for His grace.

In fact, my friend, if you have no passion in the worship of God there are only two answers to that. Either you've never tasted of His grace, or you’re a believer who hasn't adequately reflected upon the magnitude and the beneficence of God's grace to you. Because when we see what we deserve and then when we see the beneficence of His grace, it stokes the fire of our passions. So to believers, if you are not passionate in your worship of God, let me just challenge you to do this. You need to speak to your heart and recount to your heart the blessings that God has heaped upon you, so that you are ready to praise God and to give Him — and you desire to give Him — adequate praise for His grace. And if you do not know…you are not passionate about the worship of the living God because you've not tasted of His grace, then you need to respond to His invitation, His gospel call, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Jesus says ‘I didn't come to the righteous. I didn't come to people who don't need Me. I came to sinners. I came to call sinners to myself.’ And you need to respond to that gospel call, and you need to see your sin and see your Savior and avail yourself of His grace. And then you’ll be passionate about His worship. Friends, that's something that we need much more of. We ought to be passionate about our worship because we have been forgiven so much.

You remember that woman who broke the expensive perfume and anointed our Savior, and His condemning disciples said, ‘Boy, that's a waste of money!’ And you remember what Jesus said in return: ‘Those who are forgiven much love much.’ And my friends, if we do not love much and if we do not love with passion, and if we do not worship with passion, is it because either we do not adequately appreciate how much we have been forgiven — or that we have never been forgiven at all, and so have no motivation to love the One who has forgiven us?

Oh, my friends! When we see what we deserve and see the beneficence of God's grace, it stokes the fires of our passion. May God give us that kind of passion in worship.

III. The coming of the Lord is the hope of the Christian.

One last thing: the hope…the hope of our worship. You see it especially in verse 9, don't you? Why are the rivers to clap their hands and the hills to sing for joy before the Lord? Because He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness. What is the hope? The Lord is coming, and when the Lord comes He's coming as King…He's coming as judge. He's coming as ruler. In other words, this is the announcement of the psalmist — that the Lord wins. My friends, it is that hope that animates true Christian worship — that the Lord wins. Our hope is not that the Lord is going to get us out of this world by the skin of our teeth just in time, and He's going to leave it to crumble, and we're going to go off and float on some clouds somewhere. The hope of the Bible is that God wins. This is my Father's world, and He's going to take it back. The Lord will reign! How does Watts put it?

“He comes to make His blessings flow,
Far as the curse is found.”

The Lord Jesus Christ is going to come again, and when He comes, He wins! He rules! He puts everything right. That's the Christian hope — our God wins. Do you understand how absolutely significant, how absolutely indispensable that is for real worship?

This last week I had the privilege of being with some of our women who were getting ready to lead Bible studies through the stories of some of the great women of the Bible, starting back with Sarah and running all the way through Mary, the mother of our Lord. And as I was studying those women with our women, it struck me how hard the lives of some of those godly women were. Sarah and Hannah — both of them struggled long with infertility. Mary, who was put in the most precarious position, perhaps as a teenage mother maybe 13, 14, 15 years old…the mother of our Lord. Think of it, friends! Sarah was married to a polygamist. Is that what you want for your daughters, dads? Always been hoping that your daughter would marry a polygamist? You know, ladies, if you were married to a polygamist you’d be in my office to talk with me about it. My guess is it's none of your dream life. Think of Hannah. She was married to a polygamist, too. And the other wife was ‘Fertile Myrtle’ — she was having babies every time she turned around! And Hannah couldn't have a child. And Hannah was a godly woman. My friends, I wouldn't wish those lives on my worst enemies, and yet those are the lives that God had appointed for those godly women.

And then there's Mary, this young woman who's going to bear the Messiah. And yet the initial response of her husband is going to be, ‘Well, that's it! You've been unfaithful to me. I'm going to divorce you.’ No doubt that godly young woman, Mary, had often thought, ‘Lord, I'd love to marry a godly man and live a quiet life and rear a family somewhere out of the way in this occupied land where the Romans are going crazy. I just don't want anybody to notice us. I just want to love You and live for You, and rear godly children.’ And suddenly she's thrust in the middle of the most dramatic scene in the history of redemption, and her husband thinks she's crazy at first…no telling how her relatives respond. And then she thinks her son is crazy for half His ministry…and then finally she gets the privilege of watching Him hung on a Roman gibbet in writhing pain. Is that the life that you have always dreamed of? And yet, my friend, that is the life that the Lord appointed for those godly women. And His word of encouragement to them is not simply, ‘Sarah...Hannah...Mary, I will be with you always, and I will strengthen you for everything that I call you to do.’ That is not the Lord's only word of comfort to them. His word to them is this: ‘Sarah...Hannah...Mary, I will use your pain for My purposes, and I will win. And you will win with me. But I will not waste a drop of the pain that I've caused you to endure. You will win, because I will win.’

This is the message of the Lord to Christians: ‘I will win. I'm coming to judge this world. I'm going to make My blessings flow just as far as the curse that came upon this world through Adam has gone, and I'm going to do it through My plan, and I've even going to do it through the pain of My people. And so, My people, My promise to you is not only ‘I will be with you;’ it is ‘I will win!’ You don't have to wish that, you don't have to hope it against hope. You need to know it. It's a certain hope.’’ And that's how this Psalm teaches us how to worship.

Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we ask that You would bring these realities home to our hearts so that we can worship You in truth and passion by Your Spirit, in Jesus' name. Amen.

Now let's take our hymnals and turn to No. 195, and believe as we sing Joy to the World!

[Congregation sings.]

Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

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