Sermon \ February 1st, 2015 \ Pastor Terry Defoe \ Psalm 111 \ Glorious & Majestic
1 Praise the LORD. I will extol the LORD with all my heart in the council of the upright and in the assembly. 2 Great are the works of the LORD; they are pondered by all who delight in them. 3 Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. (N.I.V. © 2010)
Psalm 111 begins with a call to praise. All of God’s people are called upon to praise Him, not just on this particular day of the year, or in this season of Epiphany, but every day. And not just for this life, but in the life to come. All of God’s people lift Him up in praise. All of God’s people extol him. The Psalmist encourages each one of us to ponder who God is and also to consider what He has done – not just for us, but for the whole world. I pray that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word this day!
God is described in this Psalm as faithful and just. He’s righteous. He’s praised for all His wonderful works – all the things he has done for humanity, down through the years. According to this Psalm, when God’s people think about what He has done for them, they are delighted. They experience a deep and abiding joy. They see evidence of God’s love and grace all around. And, for that, they offer Him thanks and praise. The praise described in this Psalm involves both the head and the heart – in other words, both our knowledge and our emotions. This kind of praise involves the whole person, for a lifetime and beyond. When you think about it, any season of the year is a wonderful time for praising God. The hymns we sing this morning express our praise for all that he has done. In this season of Epiphany, we remember that God has come into this world in the form of His Son. Jesus took on Himself human flesh, and entered into human history. AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME, our Savior was born. And at just the right time, His ministry among us began.
Psalm 111 describes God’s people gathering together regularly in a place of worship set aside for that holy purpose. For the people of Israel, in Old Testament times, gathering for worship meant praising God either in the tabernacle or in the temple. The tabernacle was a portable worship place, transported from one location to another as the people of Israel moved about in the desert of Sinai. The tabernacle reminded them of God’s continuing presence with them. It gave them an opportunity to gather together, to bring sacrifices to God, and to rejoice as a community in their most holy faith.
Later, God’s people erected a permanent place of worship called the temple. This building brought God’s people together, often from far away places, to worship and to praise Him. In New Testament times, including our day today, we continue that practice of worshipping with God’s people. In our day, through the various seasons of the church year, we spend time in God’s house, hearing His Word of Law and Gospel, receiving the Sacrament of the Altar, and fellowshipping with His people. As the writer of the book of Hebrews puts it, in chapter 10, verses 23 to 25:
23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (N.I.V. © 2010)
Psalm 111 reminds us of the reasons we have for worshipping God. The Psalm-writer emphasizes that God’s works are very special and definitely worth remembering. Notice the words used in this Psalm to describe God’s works. They are great and glorious. They are majestic and wondrous. In this Psalm, as in the rest of the Scriptures, God’s words and His works are closely linked. As a matter of fact, He shows us the power of His words by means of His works. And this power is nothing less than the power to transform the sinful human heart, to forgive our sins and to promise us eternal life. That’s ultimately what it’s all about. That’s why, in the church today, we continue to preach God’s word of Law and Gospel – so that individuals, young and old, male and female, might be transformed by the Word of God, as the Holy Spirit works through the means of grace.
In Old Testament times, God’s works were numerous. I’ll give you some examples. God began by creating the universe, including this world and all the living things within it. The book of Genesis proclaims that we human beings were the final stage and the high point of God’s creative activity. As the years went by, God gathered the nation of Israel together from among the nations of the world. He brought His servant Abraham to the land of Canaan from Babylon 800 miles away. Later, God freed his people from slavery in Egypt and made a way for them to cross the Red Sea and enter the Promised Land. In the desert of Sinai, God blessed His people with manna and quail. And these are only a few examples of God’s gracious works in Old Testament times. These works – and many others – were recited whenever Israel gathered together for worship.
In the New Testament, the final stage of God’s plan of salvation began with the birth of the Messiah. This special event is the foundation for everything else we find in the New Testament. With the birth of His Son, God initiated the final chapter of His plan of salvation – not just for Israel, but for the whole world. And, for that, we offer Him our heartfelt thanks and praise!
According to the Psalmist, God’s precepts (in other words, His teachings) are trustworthy – we can rely on them. His teachings are established forever – they don’t change. Our method of presenting these teachings may vary according to the needs of our audience, but the content of the message remains the same. According to the Psalmist, God’s righteousness endures forever. As Christians, based on what the Apostle Paul has written for us in the New Testament, we understand that when we know and trust Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, as the Holy Spirit, working through the means of grace, enables us, God’s righteousness is credited to our account. Our sins are forgiven. And we are promised a place in heaven someday.
The New Testament reveals how the Christ-Child grew and took on the role of the Messiah. And, as the Messiah, He preached God’s precepts. He proclaimed God’s Word. As a matter of fact, as John’s Gospel says, Jesus literally was – and is – God’s Word – God’s Word in human flesh. As the Messiah, Jesus brought healing and wholeness to many. As the Messiah, Jesus challenged the false religion of His day, its corrupt leadership and practices. As the Messiah, Jesus preached both Law and Gospel – in purity and power. And we know that His challenging of false religion eventually took Him to a cross, where he died for the sins of the whole world. And we also know that He was raised from the dead by His Heavenly Father, for our justification.
According to the Psalmist, God’s name is holy and awesome. In the Scriptures, God’s names – and there are several of them – reveal various aspects of His character. The topic of God’s names could easily be a sermon all by itself. In the Psalm before us this morning, we’re told that God causes His wonders to be remembered. In other words, God has established special means by which His people can remember what He has done. His wonders are remembered in His Word as it is preached and taught. Scholars tell us that Psalm 111 is an acrostic poem. In other words, each line of this Psalm begins with the successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Some of the Psalms, including the one before us this morning, were constructed in this way to make them easier to memorize. God surely does cause His wonders to be remembered!
So we remember God’s wonders by means of His Word. But we also remember them through the Sacraments – through Baptism and Holy Communion. When we attend the Lord’s Supper, for example, we remember the death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus, accomplished for our salvation – the forgiveness of our sins and the promise of eternal life. In Holy Communion, our sins are forgiven and our faith is strengthened. And, of course, it’s always the Holy Spirit who enables that remembering.
Psalm 111 reminds us that God is gracious and compassionate. There are many examples of God’s grace in the Old Testament. And there are many more in the New. We can see God’s grace most clearly embodied in his Son. Grace refers to gifts given to people who don’t deserve them. Compassion has to do with understanding the struggles of others, and acting to alleviate those struggles. God’s grace forgives our sins for Jesus’ sake. And God’s compassion understands our need for His grace and makes a way for salvation to be accomplished and to be personally delivered to our address.
As we move further into this new year, Psalm 111 helps us answer an age-old question: “Where can wisdom be found?” The answer is simple: The fear of the Lord (that is, our respect for Him) is the beginning of all true wisdom. As we move further into this new year, we remember God’s blessings and also the challenges that he sends our way in order to foster our trust in Him. And, as we move further into this new year, we look forward to the future with confidence, knowing that he will never leave us or forsake us. We praise God for his words and also for his works, especially for the salvation made possible for us through His Son, Jesus Christ, Messiah and Lord. May God bless us and keep us in the very center of His will – now and forever! Amen.
Let’s Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Guide us, enlighten us, and strengthen us so that we might do Your will in all things. Keep us firmly grounded in Your Word and Sacraments and encourage us always to communicate with You in our prayers. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.