If you would turn with me tonight in your Bibles to Psalm 96; Psalm 96. If you’re reading along in the pew Bible you’ll find this on page 499. As we open to Psalm 96, let’s ask the Lord for His help as we read and study His Word together.
Heavenly Father, Your Word teaches us that our hearts are desperately wicked and they are deceitful above all else. You are the one who searches the mind and the heart. Lord, we pray as we look at Your Word tonight that Your Spirit would be in our midst, that You would apply and seal Your Word to our hearts and mind. We pray that You would search us and try us and see if there be any anxious way in us. Lead us, Lord, in the way everlasting. Amen.
We’re going to read together Psalm 96:
“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.’
Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”
Thus ends this reading of God’s Word. May He bless it to our hearts.
This psalm has a great origin. In the books of Samuel and 1 Chronicles, in the midst of stories of Samuel's judgeship and Saul and David's kingships, we learn this story about the ark of the covenant's travels, as it were, the ark of the covenant's trip to Jerusalem. Remember, the ark of the covenant was the representative of the very presence of God Himself, of His glory, to His people. It dwelt in the tabernacle and it had been in the tabernacle in Shiloh for something near 400 years since Israel had entered the land of promise. And it was a part of the worship of God. Even though this was a place and time where there was no king in Israel and every man did what was right in his own eyes, yet for this remnant who worshiped the Lord it was a part of their worship.
Then in 1 Samuel, the Israelites struggling with invading Philistines, decided that they would have a better chance in the war if they took the ark into battle with them. And they took it with them as kind of a lucky charm or amulet. And you know what? It was lost. And they learned that the Lord is not to be treated like a tool to be used for your own ends as they lost the ark to the Philistines. And the Philistines placed the ark in their own temple; the temple to their false god, Dagon, as if Dagon had been victorious over the one living and true God. And they placed this before his idol. But this symbol of the Lord’s presence is not to dwell in the land of the Philistines. The Philistines had placed it here and this carved idol of Dagon fell over and it was destroyed by the Lord God.
Then it was moved from town to town in Philistia causing a plague wherever it went. Then finally through a series of events, it made its way back to Israel and it landed in a little town called Beit Shemesh. But the Israelites there didn't treat the ark as they were supposed to either and there was a judgment on the town of Beit Shemesh. And in the end, the ark ended up in a town named Kiriath-Jearim, and it was there for several decades, all the way through Saul's rule. But as Chronicles and Samuel tell us, Saul's rule came to an end. Remember, he sinned before the Lord, he did not obey the Lord's command, and the Lord cut him off first from the kingship of Israel. He told him, "Your descendants will not be kings after you." Then as he continued to live in sin, the Lord took his life and the lives of his sons in battle. David had the opportunity several times but did not raise his arm against the anointed of the Lord even when it seemed deserved, as he was being unjustly chased around.
But now David is king and God has anointed him and God has promised him the kingship and God has fulfilled His every promise that He’s made to David. And David is enraptured by the faithfulness and the love of the Lord. And he, as his kingship begins, takes Jerusalem, a part of Israel that at that point was still in the hands of those that Joshua had been told to drive out of the land, and he built himself a house there. And he believed that he needed to build also a house for the Lord. It wasn’t right that he dwelt in a house but the Lord did not. So he set out to bring the tabernacle and the ark to Jerusalem. And this first involves the death of Uzzah as it began its travel. As it was moving towards Jerusalem, the ark began to fall and Uzzah reached out his hands in contradiction to the law of God and he touched the ark as he wasn’t supposed to, and you know the story, he was struck dead. And it threw a wrench into things. So it stayed there actually in Obed-Edom for several more months before it resumed its trip to Jerusalem.
But this time, David was insistent that God’s law was going to be followed in every detail. Through all that had gone before, through what the Lord had done in his own life, through what the Lord had done with the ark, through what the Lord had done in Saul’s life and in the people, he had been gripped by the glory of the Lord. So as he brought the ark into Jerusalem, he wrote a song. And the entirety of the song is to be found in 1 Chronicles 16, but we have about half of it here in Psalm 96. And this psalm is one long charge to the whole world. I gave it to you as a title tonight that charge – “Sing to the Lord, All the Earth!” Sing to the Lord, all the earth. This psalm is a call to missions. This psalm is a prophecy of the advent of Christ and of salvation being extended to all the nations, and it’s a charge to the people of God. But it’s premised at its root on one truth – the Lord is glorious. The Lord deserves our worship and our song.
David has begun to taste and see the glory of the Lord and he wants all the peoples to see the glory of the Lord. He wants all the peoples to sing the praises of the Lord and he wants all the peoples to tell the greatness of the Lord. So as we look at this this evening, I want us first to consider that we must see the glory of the Lord. And we’ll spend the better part of our time on this, this evening.
The Glory of the Lord
What is the thing that you find most glorious? The reality is, I think for many of us, even those who professed faith, it is something other than Christ much of the time. The thing that we think on when we’re not thinking on anything else, the thing that takes up our thoughts as we lie in bed, the thing that we daydream of is often not Christ. Jesus tells us, doesn’t He, that “where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also.” So we see as we live our lives that they demonstrate what we find to be most glorious. Sometimes this is open. Sometimes this is for all the world to see. Everybody who is around us can tell. Sometimes it’s something that we know well enough to try and keep secret; we try and hide it. We try and not let anybody else know. Sometimes the thing that we live for, if it’s not for the Lord, are good gifts or Biblical responsibilities that He has given us. You know, it’s very easy for us to hold more tightly to these gifts and responsibilities than it is to hold to the one who gave them to us.
So how easy is it for a mother to locate her identity so centrally in her parenting that a single perceived criticism or judgment from someone else can send her spiraling into the depths of anxiety or self-defensiveness or anger or hurt. Or how simply can a father focus so on his responsibility to provide for his family or a husband to provide for his wife that he fails to spend time with them; he fails to read the Bible to them. He fails to pray with them and for them; he fails to memorize Scripture with them, to grow in training them. We see all around us those who live focused on the blessings of God – they focus on having a house in the right place, sending our children to the right schools; “Do our children have the right friends? Are they involved in the right activities? Do people think well of us?” These are not unique questions to Jackson. They’re not even unique questions to the United States of America. They are the same things people are asking in northern England. When I was in the Navy for seven years, when I grew up in a church that was filled with people who were military members, they’re the same thing that our servicemen are asking themselves. We’re often taken up with these blessings, but these good things can so easily become the end for which we live our lives. They’re what we devote all of our time to, all of our energy to, and then they become no longer blessings but status symbols because we’ve shifted our gaze from the God who gives every good gift and we’re seeking His gifts rather than seeking Him.
And then more dangerously, even in the church today – and I would say statistics tell us even in this church – there are other idols. We know, statistically speaking, that there are those here tonight who have a rampant addiction to pornography. We know that there are those who are abusing alcohol and other substances. We know that there are many other sinful desires – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life that we chase after – things that we seek to hide, things that we want to hide even in our own families. And far from meditating on the Word of God day and night as we are told, those who professed faith in our own church, our fellow church members, go days and maybe even weeks without reading the Word of God. They would have trouble quoting a single verse. They might be able to quote John 3:16 but three or four more would be hard to be remembered.
David, later in his kingship, he’s going to struggle with these same sins. Isn’t he? But he lays out here a call, and it’s a call to the world; not just Israel but to the world. He’s taken up with the glory of the Lord. He’s seen the glory of the Lord. He’s seen His goodness; he’s seen His faithfulness. He’s seen His beauty and His splendor and His majesty and he wants to communicate to us the glory of the Lord. He wants us to taste and see the glory of the Lord. He wants us to delight in and pursue the Lord. And he emphasizes this in several ways. Because we can’t respond in obedience to this psalm, we can’t sing the glory of the Lord, we can’t tell the world the glory of the Lord if we’ve never seen it. And so he emphasizes this glory of the Lord.
God’s Marvelous Works
And notice a few of these emphasizes. First, let’s look at verse 3. He tells us of God’s “marvelous works.” Some translations say “His wonders” or “His wonderful deeds.” David sings of and tells us to sing of a wonder-working God. He calls us to “declare His marvelous works among the nations.” So I’ll ask you – This week, have you seen God’s wonders? Do you recognize His sovereign hand in the world all around you? Consider the way that the Scriptures speak about the providence and the sovereignty and the work of the Lord. James tells us every single good and perfect gift comes down from the Father of lights. There is no good thing that does not come from His hand. Did you see anything good this week? Did you see the wonders of the Lord? Isaiah says that “God declares the end from the beginning, from ancient times things not yet done; He accomplishes all of His purposes.” So everything that you endured and experienced this week was the work, the wonders of the Lord. Every good thing that we have, every event that comes to pass, comes from the hand of the Lord.
Every meticulously crafted spider web covered in dew was a work of His hand. This week we had a pretty insane thunder and lightning storm one day. Every lightning bolt that for a moment was unique and glorious in all of its beauty as it came down from the heavens was a work of the Lord. Some of you may have visited people in the hospital and seen children who were born this week. Every child that was born with its minuscule and yet perfect fingernails and hands and feet was a wonder created by our God. It came from the Lord. Sometimes it's very normal things. We take for granted the laws of physics – things like gravity. We say, "If I drop a ball, why does it fall?" Well, because of gravity. We forget that nothing would drop to earth apart from the wondrous work of our God. Nothing happens that He does not do. He controls all things. Did you see His marvelous works this week?
Splendor and Majesty of the Lord
Or then in verse 6, David speaks of the splendor and majesty, strength and beauty of the Lord. I don't know if you are like me, but I've had the opportunity to take great delight in God's creation, in its grandeur. You know I think of specific things I've seen that were just incredibly glorious – of driving north into Yellowstone National Park. And you know you come around the Grand Tetons and you look back and you're looking over Jackson Lake and you can see the reflected Grand Tetons in the lake and it's beautiful and it's clear and it's just majestic. Or the strength and beauty of Mount McKinley as you drive north from Anchorage towards Denali National Park on a clear day. And I know it's not always clear, but when you're there on a clear day and you can see the top of the mountain and you just see the biggest mountain I've ever seen and it's massive and it's glorious and it's majestic and it's strong. Looking out of a plane window as you fly over the Alps. I remember when I was in the Navy, one of my favorite things I've ever done was to stand on the bridge wing at night when the skies were clear and it was a moonless night. You know we always had very low lights on the ship so there was no manmade light. You couldn't see any light from some city on the horizon. And you could see stars like Abraham must have seen them as God made His covenant with Abraham and it's majestic. It's glorious.
And we look at these things – the beauty of a rainbow or something I’ve come to appreciate since I’ve moved to England, a double rainbow – and to see these glorious works of His hands that display His splendor and His majesty; to feel the clear, crisp feel of a misty autumn morning, which we’ve had the chance to do in just the last few days. You can each name pictures of majesty and splendor. You can think of these things that you have seen that have touched you. But were you enraptured with delight at the splendor and majesty of the creation without being enraptured by the splendor and strength and beauty and majesty of the Creator Himself? The one from whom came these lovely creations, who is far lovelier? We love the glory of His creation but we can so quickly pass over the majesty of the Creator. Each mountain, sea, animal, fish, and certainly each person though is intricately woven. We’re knitted together and we’re fearfully and wonderfully made. His works are wonderful. How precious to us ought to be His thoughts.
God’s Reign, Faithfulness, Judgment
And then we look at verses 10 and 13 and we might ask – How glorious are His reign, His faithfulness, and His judgment? A lot of times when we think of the judgment of the Lord we think of the last judgment; it’s a fearful thing. We think of the separation of the sheep and the goats, of the good judgment on those who have been found in Christ and on the horrid judgment of those who have rebelled against God and who have not turned to the Lord. But here we see that the word “judgment” is associated with His reign. It’s not primarily pointing to His final judgment but towards His faithfulness and His merciful salvation towards all peoples. This is a psalm that points us towards Christ as He will bring all nations into the people of God and all the nations will sing of the glory of the Lord.
And the psalm was written by a king who knew exactly how difficult it was to rule and judge justly. He'd only just started his reign, but he knew how hard it was to be pure and just and fair and yet merciful and gracious. We can recognize this too, though. Have you ever, at Christmas, as we read Isaiah 9 or sing Isaiah 9, have you ever considered how glorious it is that Christ has the government on His shoulders or how wonderful it is that Isaiah says "of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end"? We're governed by men and women who are often inconsistent. We're thinking about this the week after an election. We lament corruption and partisan bickering and partisan favoritism and graft and misappropriation of funds and corruption and unfulfilled campaign promises. And even the best of our leaders that we admire most, we see weakness and errors in judgment at times. So how much ought we to see glory in a king who is perfectly just, perfectly righteous and holy, who is merciful? He's gracious, He's slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He relents from disaster. Of the increase of His government and peace, there will be no end.
So do you think that as David began to think on these things, as he considered God’s faithfulness towards him, even as he was undeserving, that he saw a great God, and a great God who is great in comparison to other gods. Think of this story of the ark of the covenant coming to Jerusalem. There was a comparison with another god, wasn’t there? Dagon fell on the floor and smashed into pieces. And it’s true of every other item we treasure. Everything we make an idol, everything we desire, every lustful and sinful desire, and even when we begin to desire God’s good gifts above Him, when we go off chasing our sin or just something else, when we elevate desires to the altars where we serve them, I wish that we could say with Moses of each of us that we would “forsake all the fleeting pleasures of sin for the glory of our God.”
But most glorious in this psalm is what we see first in verse 2. David sings of the salvation of God. This great and glorious God who is so full of beauty and of purity, who's so full of righteousness and holiness, who's full of splendor and majesty, has made a way through the giving of His own Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, for those of us who are not full of splendor and majesty and holiness and purity and righteousness and beauty. In the darkness of our sin, we ought to be burned up by the consuming fire of His judgment. But Christ has borne that punishment on our behalf if we have looked to Him. And not only has He born the punishment for our sin, but He now brings us into the presence of the Father as sons of glory. Sons of this glorious God. So we're told by Paul, "for our sake, He made Him to be sin, who knew no sin, that in Him we might be the very righteousness of God."
And David wants us to catch sight of the glory of God. He wants us to see His glory. What poor creatures we are if we are so myopically focused on the filth before us that we miss the glory of the Lord all round about us. If you have seen the glory of the Lord, we’re told here, aren’t we, to “worship Him in the splendor of holiness.” If you’ve seen the glory of the Lord, how can your minds be caught up with carnal or lustful thoughts? And as I speak of these things – the lust of the flesh and all of these various idols that we cling to – if these things, if you examine yourselves and know in your heart to be things you struggle with, speak to one of your ministers, speak to one of your elders, speak to a fellow church member who loves the Lord and confess your sins one to another and labor to live in the splendor of holiness, to sing His praise together, to live in the glory of Christ. How can you, if you’ve seen the glory of the Lord, cloud your minds with the abuse of alcohol or other substances? If you’ve actually seen the glory of the Lord, how can you find worth or value in your work or in your parenting or in your possessions when you are what Paul says is the church of God “which He obtained with His own blood.” You were bought with a price. How can you pursue wealth or fame when His approbation is worth a million times more than the world can ever offer?
We have too small a taste for the glory of God. We can’t even comprehend how majestic and marvelous it is and we do not desire it or long for it as we ought. I would encourage you, flee to Him. Flee to His merciful love. Whether you’re struggling with sins greatly or whether you have seen the glory of the Lord and you continue to see it ever more deeply, continue to flee to Him. Fly to the cross and cling to it with delight. He pours forth His love in abundant streams of endless delight and you will find joy in Him.
But as we turn to Christ and as we begin to catch sight of His glory, I hope, that words cannot express, the psalm ought to leave us asking, speaking of this ought to leave us asking, “What will our response be? What will our response be?” Well in this psalm, we see that it’s two-fold.
Sing of the Greatness
First of all, we’re meant to sing the praises of the Lord. And we’ll look at these two responses very briefly. The first response is that we must sing His praises. We see this throughout the psalm. It’s the repeated refrain throughout the whole psalm but we see this specifically in verses 7 through 9. All people ought to sing His praises. We are to ascribe to Him glory and strength. We are to bring Him an offering of praise. We are to come into His courts and worship Him – worshiping Him with our lips but also worshiping Him with our lives. We are to worship Him in the splendor of holiness. That’s an important thing, because can so righteous and great a God be worshiped with unclean lips? Can so righteous a God be worshiped with a soiled heart taken up with the charms of the fleeting pleasures of sin? Cry out with the hymn writer, “Foul I to the fountain fly, ‘Wash me, Savior! Or I die!’” And as we lose all our guilty stains in the fountain filled with blood that Cowper writes of, sing praise to His glory. A great God who has offered salvation to filthy, marred, stained sinners like us.
The call is that we would have lives devoted to the glory of the Lord. Our thoughts and mouths and our lives are taken up with so many delights. My guess is that those you work with on Monday, if it’s like most weeks, are going to know how you feel about the college football games yesterday. They’re going to know how you feel about the election. Do they know how you feel about our glorious Lord? Do these things cross your lips? Are they the refrain of your speech and your song? Our thoughts and our mouths and our lives ought to be taken up with the glorious Lord.
Tell of the Greatness
And if this is the case, then our second response that we see here is that we will be those who tell of the greatness of the Lord. We sing the greatness of the Lord ourselves, but then we also tell others of the greatness of the Lord. There's a well-known quote by John Piper. It's oft-repeated, but it is perfectly consistent with this psalm. He says in his book, Let the Nations Be Glad, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.” You’ve probably heard that quoted before.
In this psalm, David is driving home the same point. He uses several different verbs here in just the first few verses. The first and most obvious is “sing.” He tells us, “Sing to the Lord, a new song. Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord; bless His name.” But then in verse 2, he goes on to say, “tell.” And this Hebrew word actually is most frequently translated “proclaim” or “preach” or “declare.” So then he tells us, “Tell of His salvation from day to day.” And then in verse 3, the ESV translates this word “declare.” “Declare His glory among the nations; His marvelous works among all the peoples.” To give you an understanding of how this word would normally be used, if you were to see the kind of noun form of this verb here, you would find that it is almost always translated “book.” It’s a book. This is an idea that is most often something that is connected with writing. The participle form of this verb is most often translated either “scribe” or a “writer.” So in Psalm 45:1 we see it translated as “a scribe.”
David uses all these verbs to press home that we are to tell the world of the greatness of the Lord. We’re to sing it. It’s to be the song of our hearts. It’s to be the thing that takes up our hearts and our minds and our desires and our love. But then we’re also to tell others about it. David uses all these verbs to tell us that we ought to use every means at our disposal to make the Savior known, to make God known among all those who are around us. Sing the praises of the Lord, but Christian, tell the nations of the greatness of your Lord as well. Tell your friends. They may already know. They may know how great God is. They may be worshiping Him here with you tonight. They may have been in Sunday School with you this morning, but tell them still. Tell one another of the glory of the Lord. And if they weren’t here, if they were not in church today, if they were in another church, tell them these things. Tell your neighbors. Maybe you’ve never spoken to them. There may be people living next door to you or living down the street who are dying in their sin and have no hope. Tell them of the glory of the Lord. Use the simple words you can. You don’t have to have the perfect words to change everything. Just tell them how glorious your Lord is. Tell your associates, your fellow workers, your friends, all of these people.
Pray for your ministers, your elders, the church ministries that are doing these things. There are evangelistic ministries all around this church. I know. I’ve had the privilege to be parts of them. I’ve heard about them in the weeks that we’ve been here. I’ve prayed for the evangelistic ministries of this church, for the elders, for the Sunday School teachers, for the pastors. There are those who are doing this. Pray for this work.
And I would plead with you, as one of your missionaries, as a friend, I know you pray for your missionaries – I’ve been here and I’m very grateful for the way in which we are prayed for. And yet, I would continue to plead with you because this is what Paul does in all of his letters to the churches, “Pray for us.” Not just our family. Pray for all your missionaries, every week. Tonight we heard missionaries prayed for in the prayer. There are missionaries in The First Epistle. There are missionaries in your bulletins. Pray for your missionaries. Pray that we would be bold. Pray that we would find our identities in Christ. Pray that we would love Him and walk in His ways. Pray that as we are lonely, as we are embattled, as we often find ourselves becoming embittered, that we would taste and see the glory of the Lord, that we would delight in Him, that we would tell our neighbors, that we would tell our friends in far-off countries and even in this land. Pray that we would talk in His ways. Pray that we would tell our children of the glory of the Lord, that we would read the Word to them, that we would memorize His Word with our families. Pray that we would know the untold riches of fellowship with Him and see that fruit in our ministries. Amen. Let me close in prayer.
Heavenly Father, my words are too weak to adequately describe Your glory. I only begin to grasp the most minor part of it, and yet Lord, You are marvelous. I pray, Lord, that we would be taken with Your loveliness, Your splendor. I pray that we would have lives that sing Your praises and that we would be those who tell the nations – beginning with those right next to us – that we would pray for those who tell the nations. I pray, Lord, that this would be our delight, that we would never forget that we are the church of God which He bought with His blood, that we would treasure Him and cling to Him. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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