The victorious God - Psalm 98

This is a sermon by Malcolm Peters from the Riverside Church service on 17th June 2007.

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What happens when we win a national sporting victory of some kind?  You know like the world up in 1966, or the Rugby world cup back in 2003 or even 2 years ago when we won the race to host the 2012 Olympics?   What happens on such occasions?  [mini-pause]   Well there’s raucous celebration isn’t there.  You know, lots of flag waving and singing and all that. And it’s the same in politics.  Who can remember the day New Labour won their first general election back in 1997?    Downing Street was lined with jubilant flag-waving supporters and as the new PM processed up the road to No 10;  and as the new king marched up to take his place on the throne, loud music was Blaring out wasn’t it - can you remember the song:  ‘things can only get better’  by D:ream.

And that’s what we’ve got in Ps 98:  a raucous song celebrating the Lord’s victory over His enemies and His cosmic kingship over the whole created order.      It’s picking up on the themes of Ps 96 & 97 but taking them on to new heights.  Three weeks ago, in Ps 96, we saw that God’s people were commanded to praise the Lord.  Why?  Because of the Lord’s mighty victories over His enemies, the false and empty gods;   victories demonstrated by God’s mighty acts of salvation for His people and judgement of their enemies.  The original context of Ps 96 was King David’s defeat of the Jebusites when he captured Jerusalem and turned it into his capital city. 

But the principle can be applied to God’s victories throughout the history of God’s people in the O and NTs.  Whether it’s Noah and the flood, Moses and the Exodus, the Joshua and the Judges who followed him, or King David’s many victories, it’s the same theme:  through His chosen servants, the Lord acts to judge His enemies and save His chosen people. 

And that theme of judgment was picked up more fully last week in Ps97.  Just glace back to v7 of Ps 97: 


“All who worship images are put to shame;  those who boast in idols;  worship Him all you gods”

And that judgement theme is summarised at the end of Ps 98.  Look down with me at the second line of v9:

Ps 98b:  “for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.”

Now I know that some people struggle with the idea of J's second coming.  Oh yes I believe in J’s first coming and all that.  But will the second coming really put everything right?  There’s so much mess in the world.  And there’s so much mess in many of our own lives, as we were reflecting on last week.  Can God really sort it all out, just like that, in an instant?  Will every wrong be righted?  Will every act of injustice be made right?  Will family feuds, evil, oppression, persecution, pollution, poverty and starvation all come to an end on that Day.   Just like that?   Well let me ask you:  how big is your God?    [pause]

Listen to these words from the penultimate chapter of the Bible;  from Rev 21:

 1Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

The short answer is yes.  On that day, every wrong will be righted.  Every injustice sorted out.  Evil will be both punished and restrained.  And so God’s people will finally enjoy rest.  Eternal rest in the perfect new creation.   And all because we have a victorious God.  A god who’s got both the power and the will to sort out the problem.    As the children’s song puts it:  our God is a great big God.  The victorious God that is. 

And that’s the background context of Ps98.    God’s victory over His enemies;  His victory over sin and evil.  That’s what the righteousness in v2 & 9 is all about.  And on the basis of all that background, the Psalm presents a 3-fold command to praise the Lord in song.  We’re back to Ps 96 again.  Indeed, the first line is an exact copy of Ps 96:  sing to the lord a new song.  The whole Psalm is a giant song of Praise to the Lord.   

And this giant psalm of praise is split into three sections:

1.      God’s people should praise the lord (v1-3)

2.      The nations will praise the Lord (v4-6)

3.      The whole creation will praise the Lord (v7-9)

1.  God’s people should praise the lord (v1-3)

 

So first of all then in v1-3, God’s people should praise the Lord.    Literally we’re told to sing a new song to the Lord.  And if you remember from Ps 96, new can have the sense of freshness.  Our corporate worship should be fresh and vibrant.   But there’s a sense in which we should also be singing literally new songs.  Because if you trace that phrase ‘a new song’ through the Bible, then it appears at points when God’s plan of salvation is moved on to the next stage.  Like when David captured Jerusalem.  And it’s why the book of revelation contains new songs of worship to celebrate J's final victory at the end of time.  As Richard Bewes, the previous rector of All Souls in London describes it in his book on Revelation:  The Lamb Wins.    J wins that is.

Our worship including our music is to be packed with the marvellous things the Lord has done.  As v1 puts it.

V1:   The Lord has done marvellous things, His right hand and His holy arm have worked [literally ‘victory’] for him. 

Now some people get confused by v1 talking about God’s hand and arm.  Because God’s a Spirit and so He doesn’t have a body.  And of course, that’s right.  So God’s right hand and His holy arm in v1 are metaphors or word pictures;  like when we say someone’s gone ballistic;  we don’t literally mean they’ve been turned into a ballistic missile;  we mean they’ve got a bit upset about something.    God doesn’t have a body.  But God himself has done marvellous things. He’s achieved victory for himself.    

So what’s this victory?      Well v2 tells us it’s salvation.  And v3 unpacks for us what that salvation means.    When the Lord remembers something, it doesn’t mean that he’d forgotten, like when I forget to do something and someone has to remind me – usually Kate.   No the Lord sees and knows everything; The Lord never sleeps or forgets.  So when the Lord remembers something, it means He calls it to mind with a view to action.    So what’s the Lord calling to mind?  [mini-pause] Well it’s his love and faithfulness to the house of Israel in v3.  And the word love here is the special covenant word:  hessed, which can be translated ‘loving-kindness’ or ‘covenant-faithful love’.  God is faithful to His promises.  And that’s what He’s bringing to mind with a view to action:  His promises. 

Remember those promises to Abraham:  to make his people into a great nation;  to give them the land of Israel;  and to bless them.   And remember the promise to King David:  that there would always be a king in David’s line on the throne of God’s kingdom.  And as we’ve seen, in the time of David and the early years of his son Solomon, those promises were being fulfilled.  God had redeemed his people from the slavery of Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan.   But all that was still only a shadow;  a foretaste of what was to come.    Because all the promises in the OT are ultimately fulfilled in the coming of the Lord Jesus. In the salvation Jesus achieved for His people by His death on the cross.  Because on the cross, Jesus took the eternal punishment that all His people deserved so that they could justly be forgiven and have the assurance of eternal life. 

But that salvation was never intended just for the Jews.  God promised to bless not only Abraham and His direct descents, but that through them, through the nation of God’s people, all the nations of the earth would be blessed.   God’s people weren’t meant to be an isolated monastic community, cut off and isolated from the world on a sort remote and inaccessible Island.    No, the nation is Israel was meant to be a giant Big Brother house where the whole world was watching their every move.    So as God’s people praised the Lord for his amazing deeds and lived lives of grateful obedience in response, the surrounding pagans would be drawn to the God of Israel. 

And at it’s best, that what happened in the OT.     When the Lord brought His people to the edge of the Promised Land, the people living in Jericho heard all about it.  This is what Rahab told the spies Joshua had sent in to suss out Jericho:

"I know that the LORD has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea [b] for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. [c] 11 When we heard of it, our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the LORD your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.

Rehab had heard about the Lord and His mighty deeds.  And even though she wasn’t a Jew, just like Ruth, Rahab became a follower of Yahweh.

And it’s the same for us.  1000s of years later, we have so much more to remember about the Lord’s mighty deeds.  His acts of salvation.  And just like the nation of Israel in the OT, the church is meant to be like living in a giant gold fish bowl.  In a giant big brother house with our pagan friends and neighbours looking over our shoulders.  And when they see our worship, our corporate worship in church and it’s outworking in the rest of our lives, they should be attracted by the beauty of what they see.  It’s a challenge isn’t it?  Do people look and me and you and praise the Lord because of what they see?   [pause]

2.   The nations will praise the Lord (v4-6)

And v4-6 pick up the theme of the nations.  Because in v4-6, we see that the nations will praise the Lord.  Look with me at v4:

4 Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth,
       burst into jubilant song with music;

And the look onto the other end of the section in v6b:

v6b:  shout for joy before the LORD, the King.

And of course, all the earth is another way of saying the nations.  All the peoples of the earth.  Not just Jews.  People like Rahab and Ruth.    But there’s more.  Because the word shout in v4 & 6 is the same word used in Zech chapter 9 where the prophet says:

“Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king [b] comes to you, righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And of course, that verse is quoted in the Gospels at J’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.    The context of Ps 98, Zech 9 and J’s Triumphal entry are all the same:  The Lord’s coming to usher in His righteous kingly rule.  And so the right response to that coming is to praise and worship him.    And that’s what the ram’s horn is all about in v6:  because the ram’s horn announced the arrived of an important person or the start of an important occasion:  like the arrival of the Messiah and the kingdom of God:  repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand Jesus said as he started His ministry.

So the word shout in v4 & 6 has the sense of a command:  like the command for the God’s people to sing the Lord’s praises in v1.  And so in v4-6, the nations are to praise the Lord.  But the word also has a prophetic sense.  Not everyone bowed the knee to Jesus the King as he entered Jerusalem.  And many who did then deserted him a week later.  Even today, many people defy J’s lordship.

But when Jesus returns, the NT tells us that every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus C is L.  Either with the joy of salvation, or with the terror of certain and eternal punishment; when Jesus returns, every knee will bow.    Then it will be clear to the whole world, that Jesus has won the victory over all His enemies; over all the false and empty idol gods and those who are still worshipping them.  The Lamb wins. 

And so we’re truly His people, then we need to have confidence that we’re on the winning side.  Despite what it might look like, Jesus is coming back and your faith will be vindicated when His glory is plain for all to see.  And so we need to cling to that even when life is tough. 

3.  The whole creation will praise the Lord (v7-9)

So in v1-3 we’ve seen that the Lord’s people should praise the Lord.  In v4-6, the nations should and will praise the Lord.  And so now in the final 3 verses, we see that the whole creation will praise the Lord.  

Look with me at v7 where we’ve got the seas and all that fills them;  we’ve got the land and all the creatures that inhabit it.   And in v8 we’ve got the rivers which obviously flow in valleys and the mountains that tower over them.  Put that lot together and it’s a poetic way of saying the whole created order.  Like when we say from top to bottom, or from East to West.    Animal, vegetable and mineral.  The whole lot.  The whole created order. 

So what’s the whole created order doing:  well they’re resounding, they’re clapping their hands and singing together for joy;  singing praises to the Lord of all creation that is.    So what does that mean then?  Rivers don’t have hands, and mountains can’t literally sing.  [mini--pause] 

Well like God’s arms and hands in v1, it’s another metaphor;  another poetic word- picture.  And it’s a word-picture that’s common throughout the Psalms and the prophets.    Throughout the OT, the prospect of the Lord’s coming results in even the creation itself bursting into praise. 

So as we’ve seen, at J’s triumphal entry in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the people shouted out and behaved as if they were welcoming God’s promised King, the Messiah.  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  The Pharisees weren’t impressed though and said to J:  “Teacher rebuke your disciples”;  what they’re saying and doing is blasphemous.  But Jesus replied by quoting the prophet Habakkuk [2:11]:  “I tell you:  if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out”.    [Lk 19:40]

Because, when the Lord comes to visit His people, the whole creation will praise the Lord.  But J’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem was only part 1 if you like;  a foretaste of what’s to come at his second coming.  A sort of dress rehearsal.  And so it’s when Jesus comes back a second time, that’s when not just a few disciples and a few stones in Jerusalem will shout out in praise.  No, when Jesus returns the whole creation will burst into praise.    So what does that mean.  The creation itself praising God.   

Well that’s what our second reading was all about.  In Rom 8 Paul tells is that

19The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. 20For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21that[i] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

Paul’s picking up on the curse that was put on creation back in Gen 3.  Because of Adam and Eve’s sin;  because they disobeyed God and wanted to take God’s place, not only were they cursed and punished; creation itself was cursed.  And that’s why we have so-called natural disasters like earthquakes and Tsunamis.  So when Jesus returns, he won’t just usher in the final victorious salvation for His people.  No, creation itself will be released from the curse of Gen 3 .  Creation itself will be redeemed from its bondage to decay and disaster.  There really will be a new creation where everything will be perfect.  And so it’s as if, when Jesus comes back, creation itself will breath a sigh of relief and burst into songs of praise. 

So let me ask you:  is this your God.  Is your God this big, this great, this mighty and this victorious?  Because that’s the God of the Bible.  The mighty victorious God.  The God of all gods and the Lord of lords;  the one before whom every knee will bow in worship, and before whom the whole created order will burst into praise. 

If you’re one of God’s people, you’re view of God needs to be this big.  We need to have this cosmic eternal perspective to help live the right way in the here and now.  We’ve all got issues, concerns and anxieties in our lives.  But we need to see the big picture.    So let me ask you again:  how big is your God.  And is He the victorious God of Ps 98 or some feeble and idolatrous imitation that will ultimately lead you to judgement.  How big is your God  Let’s pray.

 

Closing Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father, thank you that you are the victorious God of the whole universe, as well as the god our each of our lives.  Help us to see the big picture and thank you for Jesus.  That he came the first time to save us and that he’s coming back to bring in the eternal kingdom of God.    Help us to be ready for that day and to live thankful lives of praise and worship in the meantime.  In your name and for your glory we pray, Amen.

Promise to Abraham;  Rehab;  Ruth;   Zech 9:9 and link into Triumphal entry and then Acts 1:8.     and finally, one day every knee will bow.    [cut s& paste stuff in from pt 1?]

What:  shout for joy = sing praises with the Lord with the usual musical instatement if the Temple. 

Appl 1 :   great multitude in heaven praising the Lamb:  Rev 7:9  people from diverse backgrounds, but worshiping the one true God in a uniform/ structured way?

App 2: both a command and a prophecy:  creator of all, so all to praise and worship him, according to the pattern of worship laid down in His word.      For them, cultic temple worship.  For us:  Acts 2:42-47.  Eph 5:19 + Col 3:16;  pray continually:

Meet together to read the Bible and have it explained;  to pray for our forgiveness, and the needs of the church and world;  to sing hymn, psalms and spiritual songs focused on God;  and to remember the mighty marvellous acts of God in the past as we says the creeds and break and wine as an act of remembrance.     BCP and Directory of public worship.    Order structure and balance to our services.  Not anarchy. 

Not cultural imperialists, but obedient to God’s pattern/ worship.

Visitor friendly -   but to some extent the nations/ need to learn how to worship God corporately according to the pattern he has given.  Seeker services.  Fresh expressions –

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