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Psalms 97-100

Psalm 100 is the shortest of the four psalms in our reading for today, but for me at least, it is the most inspiring, and always has been.

The psalmist begins by calling on all the earth to make a joyful noise to the Lord. The lover of God is never content to praise him alone, but calls others to praise him as well. In fact, simply calling on other humans to praise God is not enough. If we love God, we want all of creation to praise him.

Of course, I often think that other creatures of God praise him better than humans do, or at least better than I do. Right now, I am enjoying various birdsongs that are filtering through my open window. I tend to think that they are praising God perfectly, given their resources for praise. I often think that trees praise God better than I do. Some of them are so straight and perfect and true, the way I would like to be.

It is significant that the psalmist calls on all the earth to make a joyful noise to the earth. Happiness cannot be commaneded because it is dependent upon happenings. When life goes “our way” then we are happy. When it does not, we are not. However, joy is a different story altogether. Joy is not dependent upon circumstances. It is a gift of the Spirit. It is something we can choose, despite the window-dressing of our lives. The New Testament commands us to be joyful as well as the Old. Paul says in Philippians, “Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say: Rejoice!”

There is the key. We may not rejoice in certain aspects of our life that are painful, dull, or irksome. However, we can always rejoice in the Lord. The psalmist tells us why before we get to the end of this psalm.

However, first, the psalmist calls us to worship the Lord with gladness. This second line is saying the same thing as the first. It is a parallelism, one of the most common features of Hebrew poetry. However, this second line does add something to the first. To worship God is to give him what he is worth. God deserves all the gladness, all the joy that we can muster to come up into his face. In fact, it is not enough to just make a joyful noise, or to express in words our gladness for who God is and what he has done. God’s words and deeds demand that we come into his presence with singing; nothing short of this will do. As we saw yesterday, we have a singing faith.

“Know that the Lord is God.” This is where faith begins and ends: with the knowledge of the benevolent sovereignty of God. I had a friend in seminary that had a poster on his wall. It said that there are two principles of enlightenment. The first principle of enlightenment is to know that there is a God. The second principle of enlightenment is to know that you are not Him. 

I thank God that he is God and I am not. I do not have to be in charge. I cannot control anything in the universe, but I can trust in God’s good sovereignty over all of life. I can relax today because God is on his throne. He has made me. I belong to him. I am one of the sheep of his pasture. Therefore, I can be sure that God will care for me as a shepherd does his sheep. And that is true for you as well.

Knowing this, we can respond to the psalmist’s repeated summons. This time the psalmist invites us to enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise. Here the psalmist is thinking of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple no longer exists, so we cannot obey the psalmist in the way he originally envisioned. However, there is something about worshipping God that leads human beings to create places of worship is there not? You would think that worshipping God out in the open of his creation would be enough. However, human beings have never thought it was enough. We have littered the landscape of God’s creation with churches, synagogues, temples, mosques. There is something about human beings that is innately religious and instinctively wants to build something to honor God and provide a sanctuary, a sacred place, for the purpose of worship. Furthermore, I find that there is something about entering into a house of worship, where saints have sung God’s praises for years and maybe centuries, that encourages my worship of God. Thus, entering God’s gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise is something I am only too glad to do.

Thanksgiving and praise: these are two slightly different things. We praise God for who he is. We thank him for what he has done, is doing, and will do. We need to bring God both our thanksgiving and our praise, not because he needs it, but because we need to do so. When we thank and praise God, it helps us to enter into greater degrees of spiritual health.

Finally, the psalmist gives us three reasons to praise God, because:
  1. God is good.
  2. God’s steadfast love endures forever.
  3. God’s faithfulness endures to all generations.

One of the most poignant moments I have ever experienced in worship was in a funeral service many years ago. Friends of mine had lost their teenage son in an automobile accident for which there was no apparent explanation, no rhyme or reason. The parents were understandably heartbroken and grief-stricken, down to the very core of their being. However, my friends were and still are Christians. And so, at the beginning of the service, after everyone had filed past the coffin of this beautiful young man to pay their last respects, the coffin was shut, and the congregation immediately began to sing:

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
His mercies never come to an end.
They are new every morning,
New every morning.
Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord.
Great is thy faithfulness.

There is only one person I know who can cause people to sing like that in the midst of their grief, who would cause parents who have just lost their teenage son to choose a song like that for the opening of his funeral service. That person is Jesus: the one who has been to the cross, and the grave, and come out the other side. Because of Jesus we can know the truth of the words of Corrie ten Boom: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.” Because of Jesus we can know that no matter what we go through in this life, underneath us are always the everlasting arms. I think that is reason enough to give him thanks and praise today, to come before his face with joyful song.


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