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Joy to The World - Psalm 96 Sermon, February Prayer Service

Joy to The World - Psalm 96 Sermon, February Prayer Service

Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Wednesday February 5th 2019: Season of Epiphany / Psalm 96 "Joy to the World"

         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.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.

Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. The occasion of this Psalm, Psalm 96, is from the time when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city of Jerusalem, the Bible records how “David and the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands went to bring up the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD from the house of Obed-edom with rejoicing … So all Israel brought up the ark of the covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres. And as the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, Michal the daughter of Saul [David’s first wife] looked out of the window and saw King David [her husband] dancing and celebrating, and she despised him in her heart.”[1]  This is a Psalm full of joy but not everyone will share your joy. When you are at your most joyful there may be someone right there who looks at your joy with contempt. We on the other hand, when something it is good right and salutary, need to avoid the trap of spitefully despising those who are legitimately joyful. You know the adage misery loves company; well there are some who can’t stand joy and want you to be miserable with them. You then need to avoid this, if you are miserable don’t make others miserable to suit your needs.

King David wasn’t dancing and singing for joy all alone, there were the elders of Israel and the commanders of thousands there with him, in fact like the Bible says, “all Israel brought up the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD with shouting, to the sound of the horn, trumpets, and cymbals, and made loud music on harps and lyres” Psalm 96 would have been part of that joyful procession. And like misery seeks company, joy finds company too … in fact the cup of their joy that day spilled over onto nature itself. Had David been all alone that day, had he been the only one rejoicing, had everyone else looked upon him as his wife Michal the daughter of dead King Saul did with miserable contempt even then David would not have been alone in his singing, in his joy, in his praise because Psalm 96 talks about the natural world joining in this joyful praise of the LORD.

Maybe the way this Psalm ends when it says, “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,” reminds you of a Christmas hymn, it reminds me of one. It reminds me of the Isaac Watts hymn “Joy to the World,” where a number of the verses of this hymn chime in with this same idea, “Joy to the world, the Lord is come, Let earth receive its King; Let every heart prepare Him room And heaven and nature sing, And heaven and nature sing, And heaven, and heaven and nature sing.” That same theme of heaven and nature in particular giving praise to the Lord continues when the hymn, in the next verse says, “Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns! Let all their songs employ, While fields and floods, rocks, hill, and plains Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat the sounding joy, Repeat, repeat the sounding joy.” Then in the third verse of the hymn we are given the reason why nature joins in the praise of God when we sing, “No more let sin and sorrow grow Nor thorns infest the ground: He comes to make his blessings flow Far as the curse is found, Far as the curse is found, Far as, far as the curse is found.”

Isaac Watts wrote the hymn from the perspective of the promised messiah having come to redeem not just man but all of creation, the whole earth and everything in it, which means that everything has a right to shout for joy! All of God’s creation and even the earth and the seas and the fields and the trees of the forests and all that dwell in them can sing to the LORD because of what God is doing, and has done, and will do. Amidst the “thorns and thistles”[2] brought forth by sin there is joy because God keeps His promises. With the occasion of the Psalm being David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant into the city of Jerusalem it may be worth asking why would bring a gold covered wooden box into the city cause such joy? Well Moses during the early days of the Israelites’ exodus out of Egypt was told to build the Ark by God who gave the specifics of what He wanted, and by the time King David delivered it into Jerusalem the Ark contained a golden urn holding the manna preserved from the time when they had for 40 years wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land, and it contained Aaron's staff which had budded and produced ripe almonds[3] even though it was cut from the tree, and it also had the Tablets of the Covenant which included the 10 Commandments.[4] The whole Ark was evidence of God fulfilling His promises and doing miraculous things for His people. It also included as a lid for the box “a mercy seat of pure gold.” Which God told Moses to make, “Two cubits and a half [in] length, and a cubit and a half [wide]. [Adding that Moses was to] make two cherubim of gold [golden angels]; of hammered work shall you make them,” The Lord said, “on the two ends of the mercy seat.”[5]

This was to be the throne of God in the midst of the people, the seat upon which God promised to sit and from which He promised to reign as their King. A sort of Emmanuel, a kind of God with them, which we knowing the rest of the story can see as a precious item which both in time acted as the mercy seat of God amidst His people while it pointed forward to the Christ, to Jesus who would physically in His incarnation be with His people in the flesh walking with them, teaching them and redeeming them. So the Ark of the Covenant was no small thing, it reminded the people of God rescuing them out of slavery in Egypt, it reminded them of God’s repeated help in securing the Promised Land in which the city of Jerusalem was situated, and it reminded the people that God had promised to be with them and that He had promised to be merciful towards them even though they “daily sin much, and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.” It was evidence of God’s grace; evidence of the marvelous works that the LORD has done among all the peoples.

Psalm 96 points to God’s grace and mercy spilling over to everything even the earth itself, because God has done marvellous things and because the promise of the coming Messiah, the Christ, was still unfolding. So on one hand it is a prayer of joyful thanksgiving towards the Lord in gratitude acknowledging His Kingship over all things and on the other hand Psalm 96 is also a longing for the future fulfilment in Christ and in the return of Jesus on The Last Day when the heavens will be glad, and the earth too will rejoice eternally,[6] when Jesus will judge the World in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness as the Psalm says, and like the Isaac Watts hymn, “Joy to the World” says about this Jesus that “He rules the world with truth and grace And makes the nations prove The glories of His righteousness And wonders of His love,”

Many would look at a king like King David and think, well he’s at the top, he’s in charge of everything, must be nice he can do whatever he wants, but the Christian knows that that is not the case, and David knows this to, sure there are times when he forgets it and lived his life as if God did not matter and as if he mattered most,[7] but this is not one of those times: Here in Psalm 96 David and Israel are keeping the first table of the Law, the first three Commandments, when they sing this Psalm they proclaim the LORD to be their God, “For great is the LORD,” they sing “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.” What does the 1st Commandment says, “You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things,” They are doing this in this Psalm. They “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due His name,” fulfilling the 2nd Commandment properly using the name of the LORD, calling upon it in pray, praise, and giving thanks recognizing the Holiness of the day and the Holiness of God, setting aside their daily activities to join the procession of the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem fulfilling the 3rd Commandment.

I want to leave you with two things, first remember that Jesus says that the Psalm and all the rest of the Old Testament writings are about Him, about the fulfilment of the promise of God to save us from our sin, from ourselves, from the devil and the World, and secondly the first part of this Psalm is often framed as an encouragement to always be writing new music in praise of God, and writing new music for such a purpose is commendable, but that is not really what this part is about at its core. When the Psalmist says, “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,” this is an exhortation towards evangelism, you might sing a song, a hymn of praise towards the LORD, a thousand times in your life and your sinful nature may grow weary of singing it but the new song may in fact be that same song you think of as old, but now it is sung by one who had never sung it before, it is new on their lips, new because they have come to faith in Jesus, in the God who promised rescue and Salvation and made good on His promise, new because the one who sings it sings it with faith where before there was no faith, where before they would never have sung praise to God, praise to Christ Jesus. Each person who is added into the family of God, added into the children of God, added into the redeemed of God become new voices who bless His name, who tell of His Salvation, His Christ from day to day, theirs is the new song just as your voice too was a new song once, when first it was that you believed.       

Finally we are judged by Christ on The Last Day, in terms of our eternal salvation, not based on our personal merit, not based on the quality of our faithfulness, whether we were perfectly faithful to the Law of God which was given to the Israelites by the LORD and stored in the Ark of the Covenant, no we will be judged by Jesus in righteousness in His faithfulness, which is to say He will look upon our baptism where we received Jesus’ own righteousness and it will be the perfect faithfulness of Christ there given as a gift to sinners forgiven which will be counted unto you and I and all who believe, all who trusted in His promise, including King David and all those who first sung this Psalm, Psalm 96, in faith with King David that day. And Jesus Christ, He who [is] seated on the throne [as the Book of Revelation says, says to you and I], “Behold, I am making all things new.”[8] For He is the one who makes the “new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away,”[9] and on That Day all the faithful even the restored and redeemed heavens and earth will sing a new song, a joyful song of praise to the LORD that up until that time will never have been heard before. Until That Day comes, and we pray “Come Lord Jesus and come quickly,” until That Day comes we are invited to joyfully sing of the mighty works that the LORD has done for us in Christ Jesus to save us and we are called “to tell of His Salvation from day to day” so that new voices may ever and always be added to the song we sing.

If you today are miserable and find joy elusive, if everything is coming up thorns and thistles and not tulips in your life, remember Christ Jesus is with you in your misery, He has experienced great pain and sorrow Himself and knows your pain. Remember to, sometimes being miserable is a sin when it is locked up in coveting and anger but sometimes it is because you have been sinned against, remember there is a difference, and sometimes it’s all muddled up together. Take this Psalm as a promise that the trouble you face will eventually end, Jesus promises that in The End “He will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”[10] On That Day you will have nothing but joy; you will have no trouble singing. Amen.    

Let us pray: Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] 1 Chronicles 15:25, 28-29
[2] Genesis 3:18
[3] Numbers 17:8, “On the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony, and behold, the staff of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds.”
[4] Hebrews 9:4 
[5] Exodus 25:17–18
[6] Romans 8:20–22 “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.”
[7] Individual Confession and Absolution Based on the Rite in Luther’s Small Catechism, Lutheran Service Book, Concordia Publishing House, 2006, Pg 292.
[8] Revelation 21:5
[9] Revelation 21:1
[10] Revelation 21:4