Saturday, May 17, 2014

Sermon: Psalm 148

This is the polished manuscript of a sermon I preached on November 27, 2013 at Raiford Road Church in Macclenny, FL.

Psalm 148: The Song that All Creation Sings
[1] Praise ye the Lord. Praise ye the Lord from the heavens: praise him in the heights. [2] Praise ye him, all his angels: praise ye him, all his hosts. [3] Praise ye him, sun and moon: praise him, all ye stars of light. [4] Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, and ye waters that be above the heavens. [5] Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. [6] He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass. [7] Praise the Lord from the earth, ye dragons, and all deeps: [8] fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word: [9] mountains, and all hills; fruitful trees, and all cedars: [10] beasts, and all cattle; creeping things, and flying fowl: [11] kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth: [12] both young men, and maidens; old men, and children: [13] let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven. [14] He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord.
Prayer: Father, this world constantly displays your glory. Help us now as we look into your word. Help us by your Spirit to catch the vision of Psalm 148. Tune our hearts to sing the song that all creation sings. Magnify your name through your word tonight. Help me to speak clearly, truthfully, and helpfully to your people. We pray all these things in Jesus’s name. Amen.

I’ll start with a few words about the kind of text that we have before us tonight. This is a psalm of praise, what we might simply call a praise song. But not every psalm in Scripture is a psalm of praise. In fact, there are many different types of psalms in Scripture. There are psalms of lament, where the author is saddened and distressed about things that are going on around him, and he is pouring out his heart to the Lord. There are also psalms of petition, where the author is essentially making his requests known to the Lord, asking God to act in a certain way on behalf of his people. There are even some psalms that are called the imprecatory psalms, and these can be somewhat shocking to read, because in those psalms the author is calling out for justice to be carried out on the wicked, the enemies of God’s people.
But the book of Psalms as a whole concludes on a note of praise. The last five psalms (146-150), are all psalms of praise. Very little is said about mankind in these last five psalms. They are all thoroughly oriented toward God, and devoted to lifting up his name and singing about how great he is. This is the place where tonight’s Psalm is found, Psalm 148. As you might have gathered as we read the psalm, it is indeed a psalm of praise.
What role do the Psalms play in our worship today? We know that the book of Psalms (what’s called the Psalter, if you ever wondered where Psalty the Songbook got his name) was the original hymnal of the people of God, but what role do these psalms play in our worship today? Personally, I love to hear modern praise songs that draw much of their content and inspiration directly out of the psalms that are in Scripture. Some Christian traditions even emphasize the singing of Psalms verbatim, word-for-word. There’s nothing wrong with that, though it can’t help sounding a little unnatural in English, because the words just don’t flow the same way they would have in the original Hebrew. On the whole, I think it’s a great tendency for us to have in our musical worship today, to always be looking back to the original hymnal of God’s people. It’s a privilege to read and reflect upon and even sing these praises of God that have been sung for millennia. So let’s dive right in.

The Choir Members

Most of this psalm is simply a listing out of numerous members of the created order. And it seems to me that in a lot of ways this psalm mirrors the order of creation in Genesis 1 (not exactly, but at least roughly).
The psalmist first calls out the angels and the heavenly hosts (in v. 2). And then the sun, moon, and stars (in v. 3). And then the heavens themselves (or the skies), and the water above the heavens (in v. 4). Then skipping down to verse 7, and all the way through verse 12, he continues to call out more members of creation, and features of the natural world. The mountains and the trees, and all the animals (in vv. 9 and 10). Then finally he calls out to mankind, all the people of the earth (in vv. 11 and 12).
Seeing as how this is a song of praise, we might at first be a bit puzzled by some of the choir members. First we read that the angels and the heavenly hosts are being exhorted to praise God, and that seems reasonable enough. But then in verse 3, the sun, moon, and stars are exhorted to join in to the praise chorus.
What does it mean for these things to praise God? How do the sun, moon, and stars worship God? We might as well go ahead and ask the same thing about the mountains and the hills and the fruit trees, and the creeping things, and the birds that we read about in vv. 9-10. If you have a King James Version, don’t get too weirded out about the “dragons” that you see in verse 7; he’s not talking about the kind of fantasy creature that we’ll see next month when the second Hobbit film is released (which I am eagerly anticipating). The psalmist is simply referring to great and terrifying sea creatures. But the question remains, What does it mean for these things to praise God?
I think the answer is, they worship God by doing what it is that they were created to do. We get a glimpse of this in verse 5: he commanded and they were created. Or down in verse 8: the weather itself, and specifically the stormy winds, they fulfill his word. Another psalm that brings this out vividly is Psalm 19, which is one that we know David wrote:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork. Day unto day uttereth speech and night unto night sheweth knowledge” (19:1-2)

The creation constantly speaks things about God, every day and every night. And there isn’t an atheist on the planet who can stop his ears enough to drowned it out. Then in verse 6, speaking about the sun, David says:

“His going forth is from the end of the heaven, and his circuit unto the ends of it: and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof” (19:6)

The sun gives heat to the earth, and in this constant task, day in and day out, the sun is doing what it was created and commanded by God to do. And I think the sun does a fine job. John Piper tells a story about taking a walk down the street early in the morning, and as he crosses over a bridge, he sees the sunrise. And he says that sometimes his heart gets so overcome with joy at the fact that … God did it again! He’s given us a new day, with new light and warmth from the sun.
This is how the sun, and the moon, and the stars, worship God. The stars declare his glory. In order to give human beings a small taste of the greatness of God and his glory, God said “here you go, here’s astronomy. Behold this massive universe with your high-powered telescopes, and recognize that it tells you just a little bit about who I am.” The heavens declare the glory of God, and in this they do what they were created and designed by God to do. God commands, and they obey. They do what he says.
Now I’ve been describing this as the way that the sphere of nature worships God, but in all reality brothers and sisters, it isn’t so different from the way that we as human beings worship God. In fact, it’s precisely how we worship God. In Ephesians 2, Paul teaches that “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). This is how we worship God. By doing what God says. By doing the works that he has created us in Christ to do, what we’re doing is getting ourselves in step with the created order, with the way things are supposed to be. We demonstrate by our obedience that God is worthy, and that his authority is real in our lives.

“Kings of the earth, and all people; princes, and all judges of the earth: Both young men, and maidens; old men, and children” (vv. 11-12)

Here, the psalmist is specifically calling out to human beings, different sorts of members of the human race. We see here that the praises of God are expected of all people, regardless of their social or political status, and also regardless of their age. In other words, this is a multi-generational praise song. It doesn’t matter if you’re 81, or 18, or 8. These are praises for you to sing. Don’t underestimate a child’s capacity to worship the Lord. This psalm shows us that children are expected to participate, to join in to the praises of the Lord at an early age.

Of course, a child’s worship will look different than the worship offered by adults. For them, it may be as simple as learning to be obedient to Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 6:1: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right.” It may be as simple as learning to sit still when it’s time to sit still, and learning to be quiet when it’s time to be quiet; learning to share, learning to be generous, learning to interact respectfully with adults, or with their friends.

I haven’t personally taken on the challenge of parenthood yet, but I know that this is all part of what it means to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. And when children are obedient in these things, they demonstrate an obedience not only to their parents, but to the Lord. And this pleases the Lord, and brings him glory. So while the worship that children offer may look a little bit different than the more “developed” kind of worship that adults offer, we always need to remember that Jesus didn’t tell the children to become like grown ups. He told the grown ups to become like children, for to such belong the kingdom of heaven. So they are most welcome.
I think it’s significant that the first command given to mankind in the garden was to “be fruitful and multiply.” A professor of mine likes to say that this command wasn’t given just so that there would be more warm bodies on the earth. Rather, the command was given so that there might be more worshipers on the earth, more choir members who sing the praises of God, more people who will join in to Psalm 148. We can see clearly that the praises of God did not begin at 7pm tonight (or 6 if you made it out to the nursing home) and they won’t end when we pray to dismiss a little later. All day, every day, all of creation itself, and all of God’s people in every part of the world, declare his praises. So let us join in.

Reasons for Our Worship
Most of Psalm 148 is devoted simply to calling out these worshipers, one by one. But at two points in the psalm, the psalmist breaks from that pattern to identify the specific reasons that the Lord is to be praised. This is important and instructive.
If someone were to ask us “Why is it that you worship God?” we ought to be able to give a clear answer based on who God is and what he has done. We could respond simply by saying something like “Just because he’s God!” This wouldn’t necessarily be a bad answer, depending on what we mean by it, but in order for us to truly honor and magnify God in our worship, we need to know why it is that we worship him, why it is that he’s worthy of our praise. We don’t simply want to know that he is worthy. We also want to know why he is worthy.
To draw a parallel, if someone were to ask me, “Why do you love your parents?” I suppose I could say, “Well, I love them just because they’re my parents.” I mean, it’s just a natural thing to love one’s parents, right? But I think a better response would be something like this: “I love my parents, in short, because they first loved me from the moment they knew I existed. When I was in the womb, and it was not at all clear that I was going to be born healthy, they courageously ignored a wicked suggestion to abort. And when I was born (healthy by God’s grace), they poured themselves out for me, day and night, feeding me and caring for me when I couldn’t take care of myself. From childhood they taught me the word of God, and what it means to believe on Jesus. And all throughout my life, right up to this day, they have been a constant encouragement to me, such that there is no way I would be where I am today were it not for them.”
If I want to answer the question in a way that truly honors my parents, I’ll say things like that. I’ll be able to identify the numerous specific reasons for why I love them. This honors them far more than if I were simply to say, “I love them because they’re my parents.” If I were to pick up a Father’s Day card, and the front of it said “I love you, Dad…” and the inside said “just because,” odds are I’m not going to buy that card. Because it just wouldn’t cut it. And if that sort of empty praise would not be worthy of my earthly father, then it certainly isn’t worthy of my heavenly Father. So let’s strive to know and to declare in our worship what great things God has done. The psalmist models this for us first in verses 5 and 6, and then again in verses 13 and 14.

“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for he commanded, and they were created. He hath also stablished them for ever and ever: he hath made a decree which shall not pass” (vv. 5-6)
So the first reason that we are given for why God is worthy of praise, is that he is the creator of all things. Everything that has been mentioned thus far in the psalm (heavens, angels, sun, moon, stars) and everything that will be mentioned in the second part of the psalm (birds, beasts, mankind, dragons, etc).
All of these were created at his command. He made no suggestions, and he did not ask anyone politely -- he commanded, and the heavens, the sun, the moon, and the stars came into existence. This was his purpose, and this is his show. One of the Protestant reformers described the world as a theater in which God’s glory is constantly on display. And we know from other places in Scripture that God has not only created all things, but also sustains all things at every moment.
God’s work as the creator is also totally unique. In other words, there is nothing else in existence that can create in this way. Of course, there are people who can create artistically: painters, designers, builders. But the human artist can only make use of what’s already here. They can only manipulate things that already exist. The painter has to use paint, which is made out of various things that the painter himself does not create, and he has to use some sort of canvas, or paper that comes from trees. And even the content of his paintings are going to be drawn from what he sees in the world. Even if he paints a mythical creature, like a man with a horse’s body, all he’s done is take two things that already exist and smush them together.
Humans can create in some sense, and they can certainly be creative, but they cannot create in the sense that God has created the heavens and the earth. He created out of nothing. He is unique in this role. Nothing else can create out of nothing. There are some scientists and philosophers, who are godless in their worldview, who try very hard to explain how everything that exists came from nothing. They try to explain how it is that everything that’s here just sort of happened randomly over a long period of time. But they’re never going to get that job done, because it’s absolute folly. The Scriptures teach, and Christian have always believed, that all things were created out of nothing by an eternal and personal God. All things proceed forth from him, and when the universe is rightly ordered, all things return back to him, giving him glory. God is the creator, and for this reason, he is worthy of praise.
Just as God is responsible for the first, natural creation, so also is he responsible for new creation. As we reflect on the sovereign authority and power that God demonstrates in creating all things, I cannot help but have my mind drawn forward on the timeline of redemption, into the New Testament, to a statement that Paul makes in 2 Corinthians 4:6: “For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” The light of the sun that God created, Paul uses as a kind of parable for the light of the knowledge of Christ. God looked at the deadness of our hearts, and the darkness that clouded our souls, and he said “Let there be light!” . . . And there was light. God is the creator and he is the new creator. This another reason that he is worthy of our praise.
“Let them praise the name of the Lord: for his name alone is excellent; his glory is above the earth and heaven. He also exalteth the horn of his people, the praise of all his saints; even of the children of Israel, a people near unto him. Praise ye the Lord” (vv. 13-14).
This is the second place in the psalm where the psalmist stops calling on creation and identifies some of the specific reasons that God is worthy of praise. His name is excellent above all other names, and his glory is far above earth and even heaven (v. 13).
Look in particular at verse 14: “He also exalteth the horn of his people.” Now this certainly sounds like something we should be getting excited about, but what exactly does it mean to raise someone’s horn? The imagery of the horn is often used in Scripture as a symbol of power or greatness. Psalm 75 says, “All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.” (Psa. 75:10) The point is that God lifts up his people and gives them an exalted status in comparison to the other nations.
It’s important not to get this turned around: God’s people do not lift up their own horn. In fact, God doesn’t have very pleasant things to say about people who attempt to lift up their own horn, or toot their own horn, if you like (I imagine that’s where the expression comes from). Rather, God is the one has raised us up. He has given his people royal status, and Revelation 5 says that it is the redeemed who shall reign on the earth. There are no grounds here for personal boasting, as though we just happened to be cool enough to have God on our team. He has shown us grace. He has shown us favor that we did not merit. He has seated with Christ. This is not our own doing. He has raised up the horn of his people, who are near to him.
Keep in mind also that this is one of the reasons that the heavenly hosts and creation itself is praising God. All of creation is saying “Praise God, because of the favor that he has shown to his people.” Creation can’t get enough of the fact that God has chosen to bring a people near to him. It’s part of the reason creation is so excited. And it makes me think about what Paul teaches in Romans 8, where he says “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.” And he goes on to say that there will come a day when “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”
Peter makes another intriguing statement about the angels. He says that the angels long to look into the truths of the gospel. I like to imagine that in the same way we might sit around and contemplate what the heavenly realm must be like, the angels sit around and contemplate what it must be like to be redeemed, to be part of the remnant of mankind that God has brought near to him. Paul felt the need to remind the Corinthians of their royal status when he said to them, “Do you not know that we will judge angels?” (1 Cor. 6:3) What a thought! God is going to lift the horn of his people way up, to the place where they will sit in judgment over angelic beings.
Now there are plenty of mysteries here, and explaining how everything is going to shake out in the future is honestly beyond me. But I think it’s safe to say, based on this psalm and the other places I just mentioned, that God has given his people a uniquely central role in his purposes for the universe, in a way that the rest of creation seems to know about, and is getting excited about, and can’t wait to see come to fruition. This is who we are, brothers and sisters. Let us rejoice and get excited too.
These are just some of the reasons that God is worthy of praise. And these are reasons that come out of Psalm 148 as well as other places in Scripture, that pertain specifically to how God has worked throughout the history of redemption to bring salvation to the world. And yet at the same time I’m sure that we could all list plenty of additional ways that God has shown himself to be faithful in our own personal lives. He is faithful. And he is good. All of the time.

Even the Wind and the Sea Obey Him
We also can’t miss the sovereignty of God that’s proclaimed all over this psalm. God is sovereign over his creation, and with absolute authority he commands all things into existence. Look at God’s sovereignty over the weather:

“Fire, and hail; snow, and vapours; stormy wind fulfilling his word” (v. 8)

The winds, even the stormy ones, fulfill the word of God. The winds do what God says. This is a truth that may not give us any trouble when the wind is just right in mid-March on kite day at Westside Elementary. But God’s sovereignty over the wind was also true in the book of Job, when a seemingly random gust knocked a house on top of all of Job’s sons and daughters. And it was true in August 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana, when hurricane Katrina came barreling in. And it was true just recently in the Philippines.

I don’t pretend to know what God is up to when natural disasters occur. I don’t pretend to know what his purposes are when such things happen. But I do know that the stormy winds obey him, and are under his authority. And I do know that the song is not about the stormy winds, but about the one who is in charge of the stormy winds. Which is why the disciples marveled when they watched Jesus issue an order to the storm that was overtaking them: “Peace, be still,” and the stormy winds fulfilled his word. When the disciples witnessed this, Mark’s gospel says, “They feared exceedingly.” They were far more afraid now than they had been when the storm was actually overtaking them. And they said to one another, “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” They began to understand that this Jesus who was in their boat is the one that all creation sings about in Psalm 148.

As we read this song that all creation sings, it constantly beckons us to join in. God commanded, and you were created. Therefore, praise his name. God commanded, and the light of the gospel burst into your heart, and a new you was created. Therefore, praise his name. God has redeemed a people for himself through the work of his Son, a people who are near to him. He has raised up their horn, making their name great. And if the creation is excited about this, then certainly the redeemed themselves should get excited about this. Therefore, praise his name.
You may have woken up this morning and felt terrible. Your week at work may have been unbearably mundane. You may have gone through the past few days and never once had your mind drawn to or your heart warmed by the things of God. I’ve had plenty of those days. But make no mistake, whenever we woke up this morning, and whether we were listening or not, creation was singing.
If, like the apostle Paul, you and I were to get taken up into heaven, and were given the opportunity to listen in to what all the angels and the heavenly hosts are talking about up there: they’re not talking about the latest shenanigans of Miley Cyrus. They’re not talking about U. S. politics. They’re not talking about college football. They’re not even talking about the Seminoles. Doak Campbell Stadium might be going wild, but Jameis Winston can’t throw enough touchdown passes to divert the attention of the heavenly hosts from what is truly and gloriously praiseworthy.
They’re not talking about any of those earthly things that we all get caught up in. What they’re talking about, and what they’re singing about, is the glory and the majesty and the beauty of the creator God, who commanded all things into existence, and they’re talking about the people that he has redeemed for himself and brought near to him. This is who we are, brothers and sisters. And these are thoughts that ought to make our hearts sing. It’s what heaven and all of creation are singing about. And so my charge to you is, let’s join the cosmic choir of Psalm 148.
I’ll close with a few verses from the English translation of a hymn written by Francis of Assisi in the 1200s. I think I know at least one Psalm that Francis was meditating on when he wrote these verses:
All creatures of our God and King
Lift up your voice and with us sing, Alleluia!
Thou burning sun with golden beam,
Thou silver moon with softer gleam!
Thou rushing wind that art so strong
Ye clouds that sail in Heaven along, O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou rising moon, in praise rejoice,
Ye lights of evening, find a voice!
Thou flowing water, pure and clear,
Make music for thy Lord to hear, O praise Him! Alleluia!
Thou fire so masterful and bright,
That givest man both warmth and light.
And all ye men of tender heart,
Forgiving others, take your part, O sing ye! Alleluia!
Ye who long pain and sorrow bear,
Praise God and on Him cast your care!
Let all things their Creator bless,
And worship Him in humbleness, O praise Him! Alleluia!
Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,
And praise the Spirit, Three in One!

Prayer: Father, we thank you for this time that we’ve had together. On this Thanksgiving holiday, help us to take part this song that all creation sings. May our time with our family and friends be honoring in your sight. Keep the vision of Psalm 148 always in our hearts and in our minds. Thank you God for your grace, and the great salvation that you’ve accomplished through your Son. We pray these things in his name. Amen.