A Corporate Invitation: The Joy of Worship
1 Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!
2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.
3 Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!
4 For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.
5 For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.
6 Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
7 Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, 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 splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!
10 Say among the nations, “The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.”
11 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12 let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13 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.
This is the final message in our series on the gospel. We began by noting the importance of being clear about the gospel since there is always the danger of gospel confusion. Then we spent two weeks outlining the basic storyline for the gospel under four points: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. Last week we talked about the way in which we are personally called to respond to the gospel. Today I want us to consider the way in which we are corporately called to respond to the gospel. In other words, once we have been saved by God’s grace through faith in the gospel, what then? How should we as a church continue to respond to the gospel?
A PERSONAL TESTIMONY
I want to begin today by sharing with you some of my own story on this subject. I grew up in church. I’ve considered myself a Christian my entire life. And I always thought of the gospel as something that non-Christians needed. The gospel was about conversion and since I was already converted, I assumed I didn’t have much of a need for the gospel anymore.
But there was a moment in my life about 8 years ago where I began to sense I was missing something very important in my Christian faith. I didn’t know quite what it was, but two things had a major impact on me. The first was studying the book of Ephesians in one of my seminary classes. I was struck by a repeated refrain in the first Chapter.
- In love [God] predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace. (Eph 1:4-6)
- In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:11-12)
- In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Eph 1:13-14)
Three times the Scripture says that God chose us, predestined us, and guarantees for us our salvation so that he might be praised for his glorious grace. Stated another way, when the Apostle Paul reflected upon God’s grace in saving him, he did not wonder why God chose to save him but did not choose to save others. He simply worshipped God. He was overwhelmed that God would be gracious to one who considered himself the chief of sinners.
The second thing that impacted me was a conversation with another minister shortly before I moved to Dallas to go back to seminary. I was not just going back to school; I was also leaving the tradition in which I was raised. It was not a crisis of faith per se; I never questioned the most basic teachings of Christianity. Nevertheless, it was a time of deep soul searching for me and my wife. We were missing something and we didn’t know what it was until that other minister pointed it out to me. After hearing me talk about how much I had been taught about God he said, “But it sounds like you don’t find much joy in God himself.” God was important to me to be sure. But though I knew God, I could not say I found much delight in God. Not like the delight I found in so many other things.
So began a personal quest to find this kind of daily delight in God. The quest continues. I have moments where I find it, but the struggle continues. Nevertheless, what I have learned is that this is where ultimate joy is found. And it is not some unobtainable ideal. Neither is it something we cannot find until after death. God, through the gospel, intends to delight his people now. Indeed, Christians ought to be the happiest people on earth.
PSALMS OF JOY
Nowhere else in the Bible is this pervasive joy described more frequently than in the Book of Psalms. This book was the songbook of ancient Judaism. Many of its lyrics come from Israel’s history, commemorating historical events in which God had acted on Israel’s behalf. Such is the case with Psalm 96. We find many of these same words in 1 Chronicles 16 following the inauguration of David as Israel’s new king.
This psalm, like so many others, is a song of celebration. It is meant to convey the joy of seeing God act on behalf of his people. So this is a good place to go when we want to think about what kind of response Christians ought to have to the gospel, where once again God has acted on behalf of his people.
Imagine you have just escaped from Egypt where you and your ancestors have been in forced slavery for 4 centuries. But you are not able to enjoy your freedom yet because the Egyptians are bearing down on you and you are trapped by the Red Sea on whose shores you now stand. But Moses, your leader, tells you to not fear. He says that God will bring salvation. And then, right before your eyes, the waters of the Red Sea part down the middle. You quickly hurry across the floor of the sea, amazed that it is not even muddy! You get across just in time to see the waters collapse upon your enemies who were pursuing you, killing them all. Now imagine the joy you would feel as you sang this song,
I will sing to the LORD, for he has triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. (Exodus 15:1)
As thrilling as it must have been for Israel to see God miraculously wipe out the Egyptians, we have even greater reason to rejoice. God has conquered an even greater enemy on our behalf.
He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot. You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:19).
There is no denying it: When we grasp the true significance of the gospel, we will respond to God with the joy of worship just like Israel did time and time again until an entire songbook was written!
THE CALL TO WORSHIP (vv. 1-3)
Look now at Psalm 96. It begins with a call to worship. Sing to the Lord. Tell of his salvation. Declare his glory. That’s a good outline of what worship consists of.
Sing to the Lord
We can scarcely think of worship without song. And rightly so. Music is the language of worship. The psalmist calls for all the earth to join in blessing God’s name in song.
The psalmist also calls for us to sing to the Lord with “a new song.” Because God is always acting and constantly revealing himself to us, it is appropriate for us to write new songs of worship. But it is not necessarily a new composition that is in view here. A new song can refer to the freshness with which we sing any of our songs of worship to God in response to the freshness of his mercies to us. Does your worship today seem stale and boring and joyless? Aren’t you glad that God’s faithfulness to you does not grow old but is new every morning? So sing to the Lord a new song!
Tell of his salvation
The basis of our new song is the gospel. We are to “tell of his salvation from day to day.” That is not easy to do if we leave the gospel behind. O the joylessness that comes when the church is not gospel centered! There really is nothing else to sing about.
One of the ways we are to worship God is by proclaiming his gospel to our fellow man. We worship God when we “gospel” one another. And the psalmist urges us to do this “from day to day.”
You see the gospel is not good news only for the one hearing it. It is also good news for the one who proclaims it. So do yourself a favor and proclaim the gospel to one another. We never outgrow our need for it. And we will never outgrow our joy that comes from it.
Declare his glory among the nations
The reason why there is endless joy in the gospel is because the gospel is a declaration of the glory of God. The biblical word glory means that which makes something impressive. The glory of God refers to his infinite greatness and worth. Nothing can even begin to compare to God’s greatness and awesomeness and worthiness. But this is not something we have to trust is true. We know it is true because God has revealed something of his greatness to us in the gospel. God’s glory is not confined to heaven. It is revealed on earth. And nowhere is it revealed more clearly than in the gospel.
So when we tell of his salvation from day to day we are also making known his glory. And the psalmist tells us that we dare not keep this source of endless joy to ourselves. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all peoples!”
THE REASON TO WORSHIP (vv. 4-6)
The Bible does not just command us to worship God, though it of course does do that. The Bible also gives us good reason to worship God. We are to worship God simply because he is worthy of our worship. The Lord is “great” and “greatly to be praised” and “he is to be feared above all gods.”
The greatness of God
There is a connection between greatness and worship. The connection is cause and effect, like lightning and thunder. Whenever we have one we have the other. Worship is caused by greatness. So when the Bible commands us to worship God it is only urging us to do what we naturally do all the time. We praise greatness. And we do this because we find great delight in doing so.
C. S. Lewis saw the natural connection between praise and joy. He wrote,
But the most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honor. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.… The world rings with praise—lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game.…
I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.
God’s greatness is so great that when we see it we can’t help but worship. And God’s greatness is so great that we can’t help but be amazed. Amazed like we are at lightning and thunder.
Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exo 15:11)
We have a word for this type of greatness: awesome. God is awe-inspiring. And like thunder, the awe he inspires in us when we catch a glimpse at his greatness also produces fear.
The mountains quake before him;
the hills melt;
the earth heaves before him,
the world and all who dwell in it. (Nahum 1:5)
I think that one of the reasons Christians have lost the joy of worship is because we have lost this sense of the depths of God’s greatness. Because we have lost the fear of the Lord, we are not awed by him anymore. Now it is true, that as Christians we do not have to fear God in a punitive way. He is no longer our enemy. But we ought not lose sight of how dreadful it would be to be God’s enemy. Let’s not diminish the awesomeness of God by thinking of him like Santa Claus. He is not that glorious if he is not the most dangerous. And that’s what’s meant by the end of verse 4. God is so awesome, he is to be feared above all gods.
God vs idols
And as proof of that, the psalmist points us to creation. All the gods of the peoples are idols, that is, they are the powerless creations of human hands. But Yahweh made the heavens. He is the source of everything that is.
Tim Chester points out the greatness of God as evident in creation.
Traveling at the speed of light (186,000 miles a second), you would encircle the earth seven times in one second and pass the moon in two seconds. At this speed it would take you 4.3 years to reach our nearest star and 100,000 years to cross our galaxy. There are thought to be at least 100 billion galaxies in the universe. It would take 2 million light-years to reach the next closest galaxy and 20 million to reach the next cluster of galaxies. And you have still only just begun to explore the universe.
...Isaiah tells us that [God] marked off the heavens with the breadth of his hand (Isaiah 40:12). It’s a spatial metaphor for a God who exists outside space, but it gives us a sense of the scale of God: the whole universe fits into his hand.
Are you awed by the red bird perched outside your window in the morning? God made that bird. How about the sunset or the ocean waves or the stars on a clear night? Oh, by the way, God made them, too.
Every other thing you are tempted to worship is a worthless idol in comparison to the greatness of the Lord. That physical appearance you are starving yourself for? The financial goal you are sacrificing your family for? The pleasures you are willing to deny Jesus for? The most sensible thing you can do is turn away from such worthless idols and worship our great God!
A peek into God’s sanctuary
In verse six we are invited into Yahweh’s thrown room. What do we find there? Splendor, majesty, strength, and beauty. These things are personified as the attendants of his court. He is not attended to by lesser gods, but by those things that are desired by all humanity. They find their epitome in the presence of God and nowhere else!
So I say again, if you and I want to find the deepest joys possible. If you and I want to gaze upon infinite beauty and want to be deeply satisfied, then we must heed the invitation to turn from our dumb idols and worship the Lord.
THE WAY OF WORSHIP (vv. 7-10)
In verses 7-10 the Psalmist directs our attention to the manner in which we must worship God. We do not get to choose how we want to worship him. Genuine worship must involve some basic elements.
Give the Lord his due
First of all notice the threefold summons to “ascribe to the Lord.” All the families of the earth—the entire world is summoned to the worship of the Lord—are to ascribe to God “glory and strength” and “the glory due his name.” The word ascribe means “give,” So when we worship God there must be a transaction. But our “giving” to God is not offering him something that is not already his. He is already glorious (v. 3) and “strength” is already to be found in his sanctuary (v. 6). Rather, this is a call to give back to God that which rightly belongs to him. When we worship God we are simply giving to God his rightful due.
Another way of saying it is that if we do not worship God and instead worship our worthless idols, we are stealing from God that which belongs to him. So worship is not optional. You are either a worshipper of God or you an idolatrous worshipper of another god.
Now I said that worship of God is a transaction. That’s because in worshipping God we are giving back to him that which is rightly his, namely, his glory. So how do we do that? It can only be done with joy. If we do not worship God joyfully then we are not giving him glory. So the only way we can worship God is if we first enjoy God. It is when we are satisfied with God’s offer of himself to us that we can then respond to him in joy, magnifying his glory and his greatness and his strength. That is worship. O that the corporate worship of our church might be marked by joy!
Bring an offering
A second requirement for worship is mentioned in verse 8. “Bring an offering, and come into his courts.” Genuine worship must involve an offering, a sacrifice.
Again, we dare not think that this offering is something we bring to enrich God. God does not need anything from us. But genuine worship always involves the sacrifice of time and treasure. And worshippers all over the world gladly sacrifice for that which they want to worship.
That’s why verse 9 invites us to worship the LORD “in the splendor of holiness.” Literally this phrase means “holy attire,” but it does not refer to the type of clothing we must wear in worship. It refers to the decoration we find when we enter into God’s presence to worship him. We are to worship the Lord, surrounded by the splendor of holiness. Who could not be thrilled by finding themselves in the midst of absolute perfection and beauty? Who would not gladly sacrifice everything in order to find themselves there?
So do not think you can worship God without it costing you. But also do not think that the cost of your sacrifice will exceed the joy found in the presence of an awesome God.
Proclaim God’s kingdom
A third way in which we must worship God is found in verse 10. “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’” Our worship of God involves proclaiming his kingdom. We worship God when we proclaim to all people the sovereign rule of God over all the earth.
What kind of kingdom does God have? It is an everlasting kingdom. “Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved.” God’s throne will never be overthrown. Jesus’ death and resurrection was the final and decisive blow to all of God’s enemies. So God’s kingdom has come, though it has not yet been fully established here on earth. Still we can and we must proclaim to all people that God reigns and we must summon all people to submit to his rule over their lives.
God’s kingdom is also a just kingdom. “He will judge the people with equity.” In God’s kingdom, all evils and injustices will be punished and all who have been wronged will be vindicated. Finally there will be justice, once and for all.
CONCLUSION: Be glad and rejoice (vv. 11-13)
Verses 11-13 conclude this psalm by showing us that utopia is found only in this eternal and just kingdom of God. There the heavens are glad and the earth rejoices and all of creation joins in the anthem of joy. As one commentator notes, “Where God rules, His humblest creatures can be themselves; where God is, there is singing.”
So let us enter joyfully into the presence of our reigning king, and let our corporate gatherings be times of great joy.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms 73–150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), 347.
 C. S. Lewis cited in John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist, 3d ed. (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2003), 21-22.
 Tim Chester, You Can Change: God’s Transforming Power for Our Sinful Behavior and Negative Emotions (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 80.
 Kidner, Psalms 73–150, 349.