" />

What Shall We Wear to Church?

Series: Psalms Book 4

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Aug 10, 2008

Psalm 96:1-13

Download Audio

If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Psalm 96 as we continue to work our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms, which runs from Psalm 90 to Psalm 106.

We’re in a section of Psalms all of which are calls to worship. If you can remember back three weeks ago when we were in Psalm 95, you will remember we outlined it by saying that the four parts of that Psalm could be captured in the words Come —for — worship — today.

Come — that is a call for the people of God to gather and worship Him.

For what reason do we come and worship God? (Because of who God is).

Come for worship… We said that Psalm taught us that worship means acknowledging that God is who He is, prostrating ourselves before Him.

And then, the today comes from the warning section of that Psalm which reminds us that we cannot worship without faith. And so this section of Psalms that we're about to launch into, all the way up to Psalm 100, will give us repeatedly (because they’re all calls to worship) an opportunity to think about how we are to worship as Christians.

Now, Psalm 96 is a very simple Psalm. There are several different ways you could legitimately outline it. Let me give you Derek Kidner's outline before we even read the Psalm, so that you have in your mind the flow of sense of argument in this Psalm. He gives it three titles, three headings, all which contain the word King. So, in verses 1-6, he says we have the King's glory (that is, this part of the Psalm describes the glory of the King); in verses 7-9, we have the King's due (what is owed to the King…what the King inherently deserves. The King's glory, and then the King's due, and then in verses 10-13, he has the King's coming…the coming of the King in judgment. That's a perfectly good outline of the Psalm, but I'm going to outline it in four parts. Let me tell you what my outline is.

I'm going to break up that first part and look at verses 1-3. There's the call to worship. The call to worship is given in verses 1, 2, and 3. Then the second part of the Psalm gives us the cause of worship, verses 4-6… (Why is it that we should worship?) Then, the third part of the Psalm is in verses 7-9, the content of worship… (What is it that we do when we worship?) And then finally, verses 10-13, the context of worship (and in this context it's the future context of worship). So we have the call to worship (1-3); the cause of worship (4-6); the content of worship (7-9); and then, the context — the future context — of worship in verses 10-13.

Let's pray before we read God's word.

Our heavenly Father, we ask that your Spirit would open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in Your word. We ask this not because Your word isn't clear. It is clear, O God. We do not ask this, O God, because Your word is not powerful, for it is powerful. We do not ask this, O God, because Your word is not sharper and more effective than any two-edged sword. It is. We do not ask this because Your word is not profitable. It is profitable for reproof and correction and training in righteousness, to equip the man of God for every good work. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in Your word, because our hearts are dull. And so by Your Holy Spirit we pray that You would remove our dullness, open our eyes and our ears and our hearts to receive Your word, and by Your Spirit press home its perfect truth and apply it in the way most suitable for our own hearts. This we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear the word of the living God from 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.”

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

The chronicler, the author of the book of Chronicles, in I Chronicles 16, tells us that David instructed Asaph to give praise when the ark of the covenant was brought to Jerusalem. You’ll remember that at the end of the civil war in Israel between the forces of Saul and the forces of David, that after that war was over David's throne was set up in Jerusalem but the ark was not yet in Jerusalem. It was still in another little town, and it had been David's desire that the ark would be brought to Jerusalem in order to make it clear that ultimately David did not reign over Israel, God reigned over Israel. He wanted the focus to be on God, not on himself. And it took a long time, but eventually the ark was brought to Jerusalem. And as the ark was being brought to Jerusalem, David gave instruction to Asaph the choir director to make sure that the people of God were giving praise as the ark was brought into Jerusalem. It was this Psalm that was sung by Asaph and his singers as the ark was brought into Jerusalem.

And it's not surprising, is it (the language of “the coming of the Lord”) because the ark symbolized the presence of the Lord with His people. The Lord was not contained in the tabernacle or in the temple or in the mercy seat, but it represented, it manifested the fact that that God had drawn near to His people. It was the manifestation of His presence that the Lord had come to dwell with them, and it's not surprising as well that there are echoes of this Psalm in Matthew 21, when Jesus himself is coming into Jerusalem. And what do the people cry? “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” So the “coming of the Lord” referred to in this Psalm finds its echoes in Jesus’ entrance into the city of Jerusalem.

But I want us to focus on the fact that this messianic Psalm — and it is a messianic Psalm…. All the way back in the second century when this Psalm was translated into the Syriac language, the Syriac Bible put this little inscription over the Psalm:

“A prophecy concerning the coming of Christ and the calling of the Gentiles who should believe in Him.”

So it's not surprising that — what? — 1400 years later when Martin Luther is translating his German Bible, that he would characterize this Psalm with these words:

“This is a prophecy concerning the kingdom of Christ and the spreading of the gospel over the whole world.”

So as we look at this Psalm bearing that in mind today, I want us to ask the question, “How are we to worship?”

In light of the truth of this Psalm, how are we to go about worshiping? And I want to give four answers to that question, “How are we to worship?” We are to worship with a missionary desire; we are to worship because the Lord is great; we are to worship in proportion to our sense of His deserving to be worshiped; and, we are to worship with a view to the end.

Now let's look at the four parts to this Psalm and see if we can learn those four lessons together from God's word.

I. The call to worship.

First, look at verses 1-3, and there is where we see the call to worship. What's interesting about this call to worship is that it is a call to worship that is not simply aimed at the people of God–that is, those who already confess His name, those who already believe His gospel–but it is addressed to “the peoples…the nations…to all the earth.” Look at this in verses 1-3.

In verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” Sing to the Lord, who? “All the earth.”

Look at verse 2: “Sing to the Lord, bless His name; tell of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among…” who?

Verse 3 — “the nations.” His marvelous works among who? Verse 3 — “All the peoples.” In other words, this is a call to worship to all the earth, to all the nations, to all the peoples. This is a call to worship that has a missionary aspect to it.

This call to worship goes all the way back to God's call to Abraham. Turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 12 and remember this: that when God calls Abram to go forth from his country, and when He promises him (Genesis 12:2) that He will make him great and bless him, in verse 3 He says (final lines of verse 3), “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Now this Psalm is picking up that very phrase: “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!... Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” This Psalm is picking up on that promise of God to Abram that he was to be a blessing to all the families of the earth, and it is emphasizing the missionary impulse of the Old Testament.

Missions isn't a New Testament idea, it's an Old Testament idea. As I was looking through my notes over the last couple of weeks on this Psalm, the last time that I preached this Psalm was at a Missions Conference because our Missions Conference Committee had selected verses 1, 2, and 3 as the theme of the Missions Conference, and appropriately so. This is a missionary hymn.

But what I'm wanting you to see here is that the very call to worship is a call that expresses a desire that not only we would worship God, but that all the peoples of the earth would come to worship God through Jesus Christ our Lord. It is an expression of desire that everyone who has life and breath would come by faith to Jesus Christ, believing the gospel, and thus worship the living God. It's a call to worship that has a missionary aspect to it, and this reminds us that as we gather to worship the Lord, Lord's Day after Lord's Day, we too need to have that missionary desire. Our only concern should not be our soul's communion with the living God. We should desire that the souls of men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation would come to saving faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, every Christian that gathers in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to worship with God's people on the Lord's Day ought to have a desire throbbing, beating, in her or his heart that others would be genuinely converted by the power of the gospel to faith in Jesus Christ, and that even as we lift up our voices in praise to God in response to the call to worship that we hear from the word of God at the beginning of the worship service, even as we lift up our voices in praise, there ought to be somewhere in the midst of our worship in the midst of our worship service, Sunday morning and Sunday evening, prayers going up to the Lord: “Lord, I want the knowledge of You, the saving knowledge of You in Jesus Christ to cover the earth like the waters cover the sea. I want to see people from every tribe and tongue and nation come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I want them to become brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, and us together to magnify the name of the Lord.”

That heartbeat is here in Psalm 96:1-3. We are to worship with a missionary desire. That doesn't mean that the fundamental purpose of the worship service is evangelism or missions, but it does mean that the by-product of the worship service is often evangelism and missions, and it means that in every worship service, though the fundamental audience is God, and though the fundamental purpose is the serving of His glory in our communion with the living God who made us for himself, there is always in that communion and in that worship a desire that others will participate in what we are already participating in by grace.

That is, no Christian can be unconcerned about the work of missions. No Christian can be unconcerned about the work of evangelism. No Christian can be unconcerned about the conversion of those who do not know Jesus Christ. Every Christian in every worship service ought to be somewhere in that service desiring that others would come to know Jesus Christ in the same way that God in His mercy has enabled you to come to know Jesus Christ.

Well, there's the first thing. There's a call to worship to all the earth, all the nations, all the peoples, and it reminds us that — how are we to worship? — we're to worship with a missionary desire in our hearts.

II. The reason we worship.

Second, we are to worship because the Lord is great. Look at verses 4-6. What's the cause of worship? We've seen the call to worship; what's the cause of worship, though? Verses 4-6: “Great is the Lord…greatly to be praised… [He] made the heavens…splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” Why are we to worship God? Because of His greatness. Because of His splendor. Because of His majesty. Because of His beauty, because of His glory. Because He created everything. In other words, we are to worship God because we know that the Lord is great. And if you don't know and really believe that the Lord is great, you will not worship Him.

The cause of worship is the greatness of God Himself. God's own greatness is the compelling reason for our worship, and I want to suggest to you that one of the reasons that our worship is sometimes so flat is because we do not really believe that the Lord is great. There are other things in our lives that are very frankly experientially greater than the Lord. There are other things from which we get more satisfaction, more delight, more joy, than the Lord. But the irony is this: even if that is the case, if there are other things in our lives from which we get more satisfaction, more joy, more delight, than the Lord, here's the irony: those who know true joy in this life are those who get their joy from the greatness of the Lord.

Some of you know the name of J. Campbell White. He was the first secretary of the Laymen's Missionary Movement, started by businessmen in the early part of the twentieth century who wanted to get behind the extraordinary work of the Student Volunteer Movement. The Student Volunteer Movement was sending out young people all over the world to share the gospel, and these wealthy businessmen all across the United States started saying, you know, we’d like to get involved in financially supporting this work of missions. And J. Campbell White became the secretary of that Laymen's Missionary Movement that supported the work of the Student Volunteer Movement. Here's what he says:

“Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives.”

[In other words, when men take an assessment of what their lives count for and what they’re all about, they’re not satisfied. And then he goes on to say this:]

“Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within His followers except the adoption of Christ's purpose toward the world that He came to redeem.”

[Do you hear what he's saying? He's saying you will never experience the satisfaction that God intends for you until your greatest desire is participating in Christ's greatest purpose.]

“Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of His eternal plan. The men who are putting everything into Christ's undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards.”

[Do you hear what he's saying? He's saying those who treasure God most and those who care most about God's plan, and thus who invest themselves and give of themselves even sacrificially for God and to those plans, are surprise, surprise! the people who have the most joy, the most satisfaction, the most delight. Why? Because in the end they’re delighting in God himself and in His works.]

And that's what the Psalm says.

What's the cause of our worship? What could possibly compel us to worship God? His greatness! Because He is inherently worthy of worship.

One thing that I need to say in passing about verses 4-5 in this section is simply this: they have to be among the most politically incorrect verses in all of the Bible! Look at them, at the end of verse 4 and the beginning of verse 5: “…He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” Please don't quote that in your class on multiculturalism! It won't be appreciated!

You see the point, though. The Bible has no truck with the idea that there are many roads that lead up the mountain, that everybody's opinion about God is equally valid; that Jesus is one way, but He's not the only way. Those ideas are utterly alien to the Scripture. The Bible is absolutely emphatic that there is only one God and only one way, and that there is only one name under heaven by which men may be saved, the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. And it's affirming it in this passage: “…He is to be feared above all gods, because all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.”

There's a delicious play on words in this passage. The Hebrew word for God — one of them — is Elohim. The Hebrew word for idol is elil. The Hebrew word for God, Elohim, contrasts to elil, which means “a nobody, a nothing.” So the psalmist has just said the Lord our God is God, and the gods of the peoples are nobodies and nothings. Not very politically correct.

One other thing I want you to see about this passage. Every once in a while you will run across a professor somewhere (even an evangelical professor) who will say, ‘In the Old Testament we find evidence that though the Hebrews believed that God was the supreme god, they also believed that there were other gods.’ And they will point to verses like verse 4 as an example of this: “He is to be feared above all gods.” And they will say, ‘See? This means that Hebrews thought that there were other gods. It's just that God was the highest god.’ Wrong! Look at verse 5: “For all the gods of the peoples are [nothings].” This is the idea from which Paul makes his point in Romans 14 about meat offered to idols. Idols are nothings, Paul says. There are claimed gods, there are false gods, but in the end they are nothings and nobodies. There is only one true and living God — the God who has revealed himself in His word. And we worship Him because He is great.

III. The content of our worship.

Third, what's the content of our worship? What's the content of our worship? Look at verses 7-9. The content of our worship involves acknowledging who God is, acknowledging that He deserves worship, offering that worship to Him, and bowing in holiness and awe. When we ask the question ‘What should we wear to church?’ the answer of Psalm 96:7-9 is ‘God wants you to wear an acknowledgement that He deserves worship, holiness of life, and awe of His person.’ That's what He wants you to wear to church. He wants you to wear an acknowledgement that He deserves to be worshiped. He wants you to wear holiness of life. And, He wants you to wear awe of His person to worship.

Notice again in verses 7-9, three times: “Ascribe to the Lord…ascribe to the Lord…ascribe to the Lord glory and strength…ascribe to the Lord glory due His name…bring an offering.” In all of those words we have an inherent acknowledgement that God deserves to be worshiped. “Ascribe to Him”–you’re not giving Him something that He isn't already, you’re ascribing to Him something that He already is. “Ascribe to Him…offer to Him….”

Why do you offer to Him? Because He inherently deserves to be offered to. The whole point is that you’re to come to worship acknowledging already that God deserves to be worshiped. If you don't, your heart won't be in worship.

And you’re to come with holiness. Notice the phrase: “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” Now, you know that in the Old Testament the priests had to wear special garments in order to go into the temple or the tabernacle of the Lord. And you know that even the people of God as they worshiped had to be consecrated in special ways as they came in to worship the living God. But this is not asking you to wear some special outfit. This isn't even a command to wear your Sunday best, although there are many good reasons to do that. This is a command to clothe yourself in the adornment of holiness as you come to worship God. God is holy and requires that we enter into His presence in holiness. Now, this, my friends, shows us why the gospel is absolutely necessary for worship: because we're not holy. So if we're going to worship, what has to happen? We have to understand the gospel.

It's interesting, isn't it, that Jesus’ first sermon makes the point of Psalm 96:9. What was Jesus’ first sermon? The Gospels give it to us in one verse. How did it go? “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Did you hear that? ‘Repent, for God's coming reign and rule and judgment is here.’ That's the message of Psalm 96, that we're to worship God because the Lord reigns and the Lord is coming to judge. That's Jesus’ first message: ‘Repent, for the Judge is coming to reign and rule.’

Well, why do you need to repent? Because the Judge is holy and you’re not, and the Judge is going to judge justly, and you’re ungodly. And so the only response, if that's going to be good news, is to repent. Psalm 96:9 is reminding us of this. If we're going to come in to worship the Lord in holiness, it's going to entail repentance, because we're not holy! We need a holiness that doesn't come from us. We need a holiness that comes from Christ. We need to be clothed in His righteousness if we're going to come and worship the living God.

And, my friends, we will worship in proportion to our sense of God's deserving of worship. If we don't think God deserves worship, our worship will be tepid. If we really believe in our heart of hearts that He deserves what we're going to offer, then we will be passionate in our worship of the living God.

IV. The context of worship.

And then, finally, the context of worship (verses 10-13) is what? It's the end. The context of worship is the Lord's coming, the Lord's reign, the Lord's judgment. It's a future context of worship. That is, in every worship service we ought to be thinking of the end.

What's going to happen in the end? Verse 10…the Lord will reign. Verse 10…the Lord will judge the peoples. Verse 13…the Lord will come and judge the earth and judge the world in righteousness. In other words, Psalm 96 is asking us to worship in light of the end.

In the next few weeks, many of you are going to watch or listen to football games. Some of you will go there and be in the stadiums yourselves, some of you will watch them on television or on the internet, some of you will listen to them on the radio. And your enjoyment of those games (or lack thereof!) will be directly proportionate to your understanding of how they are supposed to end and whether you care how they’re supposed to end. You know, if you’re one of those people who doesn't have a clue what is going on in the game and you’re sitting in the stands, you’re going to be thinking about everything else in the world and when am I going to get out of here, because you don't understand the game. If you don't understand how the game is supposed to end, it's going to be a miserable experience for you. And if you understand how it's supposed to end but you don't care, it's going to be a miserable experience for you.

It's the same way in worship. We are to worship in light of the end. If we don't understand how it's supposed to end and if we don't care how it's going to end, our worship is going to be miserable. The psalmist is saying when we worship we must worship knowing that when the end comes, the Lord wins. And the Lord reigns. And the Lord judges. And He forgives those who trust in Him, and He punishes those who have rejected Him.

And that is a controlling reality for life. Early Christians called it “the blessed hope,” that the Lord is coming. And if that is not a controlling reality for your life, if you don't understand it and you don't care about it, your worship will be limp. But for true believers, they worship God with a missionary desire and they worship God because He is great, and they worship Him out of a sense that He inherently deserves to be worshiped, and they worship Him in light of the future, because He is coming.

May God grant that we would all worship this way. Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, give to us faith to believe, to harken to this Your word. We ask in Jesus' name. Amen.

Would you take your hymnals and turn with me to No. 454. Margaret Clarkson wrote a hymn based on Psalm 96:3 for the Urbana Conference on World Missions many years ago. Let's sing it to God's praise: Our God is Mighty, Worthy of All Praising.

[Congregation sings.]

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

© First Presbyterian Church.

This transcribed message has been lightly edited and formatted for the Web site. No attempt has been made, however, to alter the basic extemporaneous delivery style, or to produce a grammatically accurate, publication-ready manuscript conforming to an established style template.

Should there be questions regarding grammar or theological content, the reader should presume any website error to be with the webmaster/transcriber/editor rather than with the original speaker. For full copyright, reproduction and permission information, please visit the First Presbyterian Church Copyright, Reproduction & Permission statement.