August 10, 2010 David Balzer

Psalm 96: Responding on Purpose

When I first started teaching, I had to teach maths for a year. Year 8. Bottom class. Now maths is fine, and I love it. But if there’s one thing I learned about maths in that first year, it’s that my love of maths isn’t shared by the majority of people.

“Sir, I hate this!”, “Sir, I can’t understand this!”

And more often than any other comment. There was this continuous refrain.

“WHY do we have to learn this?”

“What USE is this going to be in my life?”

“What POSSIBLE PURPOSE is this going to have in the future?”

We like to know the REASONS WHY we do things, don’t we? To know what the BACKGROUND is behind what happens. Something that gives some PURPOSE and RATIONALE to the events we’re involved in.

Today I want us to think about church.

WHY do we do the things we do?

How do we decide what things to do, or NOT to do, in church?

Is there some TEST or PRINCIPLE we can use to work out what’s APPROPRIATE and what’s NOT? What to change? What to keep the same?

I noticed a new book in the PTC library the other day. “What people expect from Church: Why meeting the needs of people is more important than church meetings”

What struck me about the title was how HUMAN-CENTRED it was. It suggested that when it comes to church, it’s more important to focus on WHAT PEOPLE WANT than on WHAT’S PLEASING TO GOD.

So does church ultimately depend on WHAT PEOPLE WANT? On MARKET RESEARCH? Why not make church a countdown of the top ten items, based on a survey of 1000 households from our target demographic?

Your survey result might sound something like this.

I want comfortable seats.

I want happy greeters at the door. (Don’t want to get depressed even before church starts).

I want attractive people to lead church. (Don’t want average-looking people spoiling the view)

I want a top quality band performing the latest songs. (Only as long as I like the style, and the words aren’t too religious).

A talk is okay. As long as it’s entertaining and amusing, doesn’t go on too long, and doesn’t make me feel uncomfortable.

Prayer’s acceptable as long as it’s inclusive, non-sexist, and tolerant of other people’s feeling and beliefs.

I want the collection plate hidden behind a curtain so I don’t feel guilty when I walk past it.

Oh, and it should NEVER go over an hour, because I put the roast on before I left.

Is this what church should be about? Is this what it takes for church to be relevant in the 21st century? To follow the whim of every consumer trend?

Let me suggest that GOD’S picture of church is WAY ABOVE this image.

It’s right to want REASONS for doing what we do at church. But the measuring stick for what we do is NOT the fickleness of people’s preferences. The TRUE measuring stick for church is that of RESPONDING to WHO GOD IS, and what he’s done for us in Jesus.

Our singing, our prayer, our bible talks, the Lord’s Supper, even our announcements and our collection are to be a RESPONSE to WHO GOD IS, and to WHAT HE’S DONE.

Psalm 96 gives us a BLUEPRINT for how the people of God should worship him. How they are to RESPOND to the God who saves them. And what it is that should motivate them.

In the Psalm we see three RESPONSES to God. And after each one there’s a REASON WHY that response is the right one. Reasons which are to do with WHO GOD IS and WHAT HE’S DONE.

Response 1(1-3)

So let’s look at the first response. Verses 1-3. The appropriate response to God is PRAISE. We’re to recognise who God is, and acknowledge what’s good about him.

(Psa 96:1-3 NIV)  “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth. {2} Sing to the LORD, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. {3} Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.”

Here we go. Right here in the first verse. Something the surveys probably wouldn’t recommend. Singing. It’s something peculiar to church these days. Aussies just don’t sing anymore. (Unless you count the National Anthem at the football – and that’s about as close as most people get to a religious experience these days anyway!)

But God’s people are to sing. If we were driven by human choice, we probably wouldn’t do it. But God’s people sing because we’ve got something to sing about.

Let me ask you a question. Who do we sing TO?

Verse 1 says we sing TO the Lord. We tell HIM how great he is.

But who is this PSALM speaking to? It’s directed to the people of God. When we sing this psalm, we sing to EACH OTHER, encouraging each other to sing to GOD.

Our songs need to be a mixture of songs directed to God, and songs directed TO EACH OTHER. Take the time to think as you sing. “Who am I singing this to?”


Praise isn’t just what we do in church. We’re to declare God’s glory among the nations, day after day. Praise is COMPLETED BY EVANGELISM. EVANGELISM is PRAISE.

As we proclaim God to our neighbours, we’re PRAISING GOD. As we praise God together, we’re proclaiming him among the nations.

The things we do when we’re together have a greater significance than simply what happens amongst us when we sing. We’re doing something profound. We’re making a statement to the whole world around us. We’re saying, “Praise is the natural response from people who’ve been saved. It’s the way the world’s meant to be. It’s what everyone needs to do.”

It’s a proclamation that was part of Israel’s agenda in the Old Testament. Part of their service or worship. Part of their praise was to be a light to the nations. A blessing to the nations. PROCLAIMING God. PRAISING God. That as the nations looked at Israel, and at how they lived, they would flock to Jerusalem. And THEY TOO would praise God.

But Israel never really did it. God became their exclusive possession. Something to jealously guard. To keep to themselves.

But what Israel DIDN’T do, God did eventually. In Isaiah 42, he promised a servant who would be a LIGHT TO THE GENTILES. Who would open the eyes of the blind. And free captives from prison. And in God’s timing he sent Jesus. And in Lk 2, when Simeon saw the baby Jesus, he praised God because he’d seen God’s salvation. The one who’d be a LIGHT FOR REVELATION TO THE GENTILES.

Listen to how all these promises were fulfilled after Jesus left. Acts chapter 2. The disciples are in Jerusalem. Waiting for the helper Jesus said he’d send. Verse 1.

(Acts 2:1-12 NIV)  “When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. {2} Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. {3} They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. {4} All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. {5} Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. {6} When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. {7} Utterly amazed, they asked: “Are not all these men who are speaking Galileans? {8} Then how is it that each of us hears them in his own native language? {9} Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, {10} Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome {11} (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs–we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” {12} Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?””

And then Peter stands up to address the crowds. And what does he say? Verse 21. Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be SAVED.

What’s Peter doing? He’s declaring God’s SALVATION to the nations. Just like Ps 96 says. He goes on to talk about God’s PLAN of salvation. How Jesus came, was rejected, put to death by wicked men. But how God raised him from the dead.

And in v 37, all the people. From all over the world. Are cut to the heart. And say to Peter, “What shall we do?”

Peter answers, “Repent and be baptised, every one of you for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. THE PROMISE IS FOR YOU AND YOUR CHILDREN AND FOR THOSE WHO ARE FAR OFF – FOR ALL THOSE WHO GOD CALLS.”

That’s US. We Gentiles are part of God’s plan too. Jews AND Gentiles are part of God’s salvation. And both Jews and Gentiles are to be part of his PRAISE. And that’s not just in the New Testament. That’s the call of Ps 96. To praise God by proclaiming his salvation among the nations.

How do WE see evangelism? Is it an added extra? A necessary duty. Like the fine-print in the contract you didn’t read before you signed? Do we see it as SEPARATE from what we do at church? Perhaps it’s what we do as INDIVIDUALS during the week. And then when we come together, we do something ELSE? Something DIFFERENT?

But this Psalm teaches us that proclaiming God’s salvation is tied up in what we DO as God’s people. We can’t separate it. BEING the people of God means PROCLAIMING him. Evangelism becomes a CHARACTERISTIC of being God’s people. We do it TOGETHER. It’s a TEAM sport. Not an individual one.

When we think about evangelism like this, it becomes exciting. It becomes natural. It becomes PRAISE.

Why? (4-6)

But back to Psalm 96. If praise is our RESPONSE, WHY respond that way? What’s our basis? Our rationale? Verses 4-6.

Why respond to God with praise? Verse 4. Because he’s WORTHY OF PRAISE. The logical response to someone who’s worthy of praise is to praise him. What ELSE would you do?

And what’s more. Verse 5. He’s the ONLY one who’s worthy of it. “For all the gods of the nations are idols. But the Lord made the heavens.”

There’s a pun here. The writer makes fun of the other gods. All the other gods (elohym) are idols (eliliym) – useless, good for nothing. There not elohym at all – there only eliliym.

God’s the only one with the runs on the board. There’s no other option. And when you’ve met “the real deal”, there’s only one response that’s appropriate.

I heard of a brilliant concert pianist who came to a Conservatorium to give a performance. He had an awesome reputation, and the place was buzzing with excitement. The hall was packed. Full of budding pianists. Everyone talented in their own right. The maestro walks across the stage, stands in front of the piano, and asks, “What would you like to hear?”

There’s a murmur in the crowd. “Who did this guy think he was? We’re not a bunch of schoolkids easily impressed with some tidbit thrown our way!” So someone calls out, “Play some Rachmaninov”. (There’s nothing harder). He gives a slight shrug of the shoulders. “Which Concerto?” The murmur gets louder. “What an ego!”. So someone asks him to play the HARDEST of the Concertos. He nods his head. “What key?”…   So they decide on a key. And the maestro sits down.

By this time most of the audience are fuming. “How insolent! How audacious! What a swelled head!”

But then he starts to play. And the audience stops their mumbling. His fingers just dance across the keys. And the notes just tumble out across the hall, and fill it with the most beautiful music. Perfect precision. Wonderful interpretation. Effortless. Majestic. At the end of the piece, there’s silence…..

And then everyone stands as one. And gives him the loudest and longest applause that anyone can remember. Their anger is forgotten. Because when you’re in the presence of greatness, the appropriate response is obvious.

Why praise God? Because he’s worthy of our praise. Splendour and majesty are before him. Strength and glory are in his sanctuary.

Response 2 (7-9)

That’s GOD. But then the Psalm changes back to US. In verses 7-9 we see our second response to God. We are to WORSHIP him.

(Psa 96:7-9 NIV)  “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. {8} Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. {9} Worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.”

Now ascribe isn’t a word we use all that often. At least I HOPE you don’t use it all that often! But it basically means to GIVE. To assign or attribute.

The appropriate response to God is to GIVE him glory and strength. To GIVE him the glory that’s due his name. And then the Psalm puts it a different way. When we assign these qualities to God, we WORSHIP him.

To worship the Lord is to RECOGNISE that he’s the one who DESERVES the glory and the strength. And to ASSIGN THEM to him. To acknowledge that they’re his natural qualities.

Worship is about giving. Yet most of us think worship is about receiving. Having our needs met. Emotional, spiritual. But church, and worship is about giving. Giving God the honour and the glory that he deserves. And it’s upside down to expect to receive when it’s your job to give.

I know of a lady who decided to move churches. She told the minister that she was moving because his church didn’t meet her worship needs! Since when is worship about having your needs met?

The Psalm goes on. What’s the consequence of recognising who God is? To Tremble before him all the earth.

Do we take God too lightly? Do we approach church too flippantly? Do we come before the throne of the king too presumptuously? Yes, we’re sinners saved by grace alone. But do we sometimes GLORY in that? And treat our sin as if it doesn’t matter?

When we do it, we cheapen God’s grace. If we fail to recognise God’s holiness, our sinfulness becomes unimportant. Our sin isn’t insignificant to God. It was SO significant he sent his only Son to take the punishment for that sin. To deal with it. Let’s not take God’s holiness, or our sinfulness lightly.

God is an awesome, holy, mighty, and majestic God. Do we recognise and ascribe those things to God?

As a young church, with few traditions, we need to be careful that we don’t take God too lightly. If there are traps to fall into with an OLD TRADITIONAL BUILDING, there are also traps to fall into when we meet in a SCHOOL. Church can easily become something unimportant. A business meeting, or a lecture. A bit ho-hum!

In our desire to be relevant and welcoming and modern, we need to be careful that we don’t lose sight of the AWESOME God we worship.

Why? (10)

So our second response is WORSHIP. And then in verse 10 we see the REASON WHY we worship God. Once again, it’s because of WHO GOD IS, and WHAT HE’S DONE.

(Psa 96:10 NIV)  “Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” The world is firmly established, it cannot be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”

We’re to worship God because he REIGNS. Because he’s KING. And when you meet a king, you bow down. And that’s literally what the word for “worship” means. To prostrate, or fall before him.

We bow down before the king because we recognise his right to rule over us. Worship is a recognition that we’re subjects of the king. Worship is a recognition of the POWER of the king. He’s sovereign over the whole universe. Everything that happens, happens because of God’s say-so.

And he does it WELL. The sign of good government is stability. The unrest in Fiji at the moment points to poor government. But God’s government – his sovereignty – is good. It’s perfect. The world is firmly established. It can’t be moved. He’s doing a great job.

Response 3 (11-12)

And in the next verses, we see our third response. The response to the King who rules, and who’ll RETURN to rule and judge – is to celebrate. It’s a creation celebration!

(Psa 96:11-12 NIV)  “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; {12} let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy;”

The creation that God rules over is to rejoice. EVERYTHING is to be jubilant because everything is under God’s good hand. And WE join with the whole creation in celebrating.

It’s hard to get around the emotion in these verses.

If the VERY TREES are joyful at God’s reign, shouldn’t WE be much MORE joyful? If the fields are jubilant at the king who rules, why are we so careful at church to keep our emotions in check?

Do you get EXCITED about what God’s doing in the world? Are you JOYFUL when you praise the God who’s saved you?

Why? (13)

There’s joy in the present. God’s ruling NOW. But at the same time, creation rejoices because God’s COMING BACK. Verse 13 gives us the REASON for the creation celebration.

(Psa 96:13 NIV)  “they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in his truth.”

When the Jews sung this song, they looked forward to the Day of the Lord. In 1 Chronicles 16 King David and the people sung this Psalm as the Ark was brought into Jerusalem. God was beginning his rule from Mt Zion. The day was coming. The Day when God would raise up Israel to a position of honour among the nations.

But that never really happened. King David and King Solomon’s reigns were the highpoints. And things just went down hill after them.

But these verses take on much GREATER significance when we recognise JESUS in them. We’re looking forward to the day when JESUS will return to judge. It’s a day when the whole world will see his sovereignty and his right-to-rule. When the whole world will submit to his justice.

Justice is a great word as long as you’re on the right side of it. We love to see a policeman when we’re being threatened, or when there’s been an injustice done against us. That’s when we love to see justice done.

But when we see the flashing blue lights of a police car in our rear-vision mirror, we’re not so happy. When we’re pulled over for speeding we don’t cheer that justice has been done, do we?

Even if we’re NOT speeding we AUTOMATICALLY put our foot on the brakes. It’s a reflex action. We can never be too confident that we’re not doing something wrong.

But we can be confident and joyful at the coming justice of Jesus. Because we know we’re on the right side of the law. Our right standing before the law is based on SOMEONE ELSE’S perfection. We’re confident that Christ’s perfection means our innocence.

There’s a standing joke around college. When exam-time comes around, we pray that God will show his CHARACTER towards us. That he’ll show his JUSTICE to those who’ve studied, and his MERCY to those who haven’t. Justice is a joyous thing for those on the right side.

And the day of justice is the day the WHOLE CREATION is waiting for too. Romans 8 talks about creation groaning and waiting for its liberation. Jesus has achieved restoration for the WHOLE CREATION. In his resurrection he’s redeemed everything. When he returns EVERYTHING will be restored to the way it was in the beginning. And that’s cause to celebrate.

At the moment God is restoring creation one small part at a time. At the moment there’s ONE PLACE where we see restored creation starting to happen. ONE PLACE where restored relationships are starting to be worked out. ONE PLACE where restored people are starting to live as they were designed to. Where IS that?

It’s in CHURCH. It’s in the PEOPLE OF GOD that God is doing his work. Restoring his creation. Giving us a glimpse of what the restored world is going to be like.

And as we live as God’s people in the world, and respond to him in praise and worship. As we work out what love and patience and praise and sacrifice mean in community. By being God’s people, we grow our corner of God’s restored, and restoring, creation just that little bit bigger.

As we praise him by proclaiming his salvation among the nations, we see his new restored creation just that little bit clearer. People catch a vision of what God is doing, and they want to be a part of it too. Part of the renewed world.

And as we join with the whole world in a creation celebration, we look forward with hope and joy for that day when what’s BEGUN here, comes COMPLETELY and PERFECTLY. When justice and righteousness will be seen. When Jesus the Judge, Jesus the Saviour, comes to judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his truth.

THAT’S what church is about. THAT’S why we do what we do.

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