Be Joyful - The Lord Reigns
Good morning and welcome to Dishman Baptist Church. Please take your Bibles and turn in them with me to Psalm 97, Psalm 97.
We will be continuing our Advent series today. We’ve looked at the hope that Christ provided through His faithfulness - examining three proofs in the proof of His Word, the proof of Creation, the proof of Providence and the proof of His work in individual lives. Because of these proofs and His faithfulness we know that hope was realized in His first coming. His first advent, and the salvation that resulted provides us the hope that we can look forward to His second coming.
Last week we looked again at the peace that God gives to those who love Him. That even though that peace may seem ragged and run down at times because of our own actions that He again is faithful and that He has done it in the past, that He is doing it now and that He will continue to provide peace in our lives. Again through His faithfulness to His people. In fact I would say that the underlying theme of advent is a testimony to the faithfulness of God. We celebrate the coming of a baby but we must also recognize the fulfillment of God’s promises to each of us.
This morning we look at another aspect of the Advent season - again, one that is conspicuously absent in our world. We may experience temporary happiness - fleeting moments of emotional elation. But true joy? As we examine our world we must recognize that there is an absence of true joy - the kind of joy that is present regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Some may call this a simple contentment such as Paul expressed in Philippians 4
I know how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need.
But I would venture to say that true Christian joy is more than simple contentment with our current circumstances but instead an ebullient lifestyle that is infectious to those around us. It is living with cheerfulness and energy that others can’t help but be affected by it. Not many people would classify me as one of these people. Admittedly I would like to have more joy in my life. So in some ways this morning’s sermon is a reminder to me where that true joy is found.
Maybe you’re like me this morning. Maybe you’d like to live in this condition but you find your joy being stolen this Christmas season by the condition of our world, by the busyness of your life or just by your natural inclination toward pessimism. This morning we’re going to explore what I believe is the true key to living a joyful life.
The Lord reigns! Let the earth rejoice; let the many coasts and islands be glad. Clouds and total darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord— at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; all the peoples see his glory. All who serve carved images, those who boast in worthless idols, will be put to shame. All the gods must worship him. Zion hears and is glad, Judah’s villages rejoice because of your judgments, Lord. For you, Lord, are the Most High over the whole earth; you are exalted above all the gods. You who love the Lord, hate evil! He protects the lives of his faithful ones; he rescues them from the power of the wicked. Light dawns for the righteous, gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in the Lord, you righteous ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
Well, it would seem on the surface that this Psalm is anything but joyful. Clouds and total darkness. Fire goes before Him and burns up His foes on every side - sounds more like a fire and brimstone Psalm.
Each and every word of this short sentence is pregnant with meaning. It is a rich fountain for us to draw from and to experience true and lasting joy - if we would only grasp the concepts, the implications and most importantly, the truth of these three words. The Lord reigns!
This morning I want to spend our time examining these three words to understand just how much is conveyed through these three seemingly simple words. An article, a noun and a verb. The simplest of sentences - well one of the simplest forms of a sentence - and yet one so, as I’ve already said, valuable in the riches that it conveys that we would do well to meditate slowly on these words.
An Article Supplied
An Article Supplied
I must admit here that this article is supplied by the translators to make this sentence flow better in English. The original language only has Yahweh reigns - but in English that sounds awkward and so the translators supplied the article “the”. But even this is significant. The article right from the start screams. It speaks of the universal nature of God. It speaks of the exclusive nature of God.
The universal nature of God does not point to a universalism in God. It does not indicate that there is a way that all people will one day be saved regardless of their reaction to Him. Instead what it speaks to is the fact that there is only one God. The Lord reigns. Not “a” Lord reigns or even “our” Lord reigns. Any one of these phrasings would make this statement far more palatable to the society that this Psalmist lived in.
This is a definite statement. There is no room for subjectivity in the statement “The Lord reigns”. The implies that a specific entity is being referred to. “A” Lord reigns would open the idea to the subjective interpretation of whether it could be this Lord that the Psalmist is writing about or some other Lord. Even the idea that it is simply “our” Lord who reigns is a subjective statement to which one could respond - well that works for you but in my society our lord reigns.
Jewish life was plagued by compromises with this subjective thought. Instead of remaining true to the God of Israel they would often succumb to local pressure and influence and allow other gods to intrude on their worship of the Lord. In fact with the exception of the peace experienced under David and Solomon, Israel experienced the most peace - meaning the lack of hostilities - when they compromised with the nations around them with respect to the worship of God alone and allowed for the worship of foreign deities.
We find ourselves in the same position as the early Israelites. We could very easily get along with the world if we would just acquiesce and agree that their views are just as valid. Instead of worshipping at the altars of Molech and Chemosh and the Asherah poles, we could give in to the ideas of racism and feminism, the altars of abortion and the sexual revolution. Then we could live at peace with the nations and go about our business of worshipping our God in our way. Except this statement. The Lord reigns.
See the thing is that this statement - the Lord reigns - is not simply a statement that He is the Lord of Israel but of all nations. That He rules and created all nations. This is the universal nature of God - that He is the Lord of all nations. There is only one, there can be no others. There is only one. And not in a “hunger games” sort of situation where the last one standing is the victor - there aren’t even any competitors to God’s status as the Lord of the universe. The Lord reigns - there is only One and He doesn’t share His glory with others.
I am the Lord. That is my name, and I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols.
There is another statement that goes along with this thought - I am the way, the truth and the life. Oh if only Jesus had said a way then the world would get onboard with that statement. Oprah, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Hindus, Muslims - we could get along with all of them if Christ were just a way to Heaven and their ways were just as valid. But He didn’t say that. There is that pesky little article “the” again. The doesn’t allow for any compromise. “The” screams exclusivity. When the world is telling us - and some in the church are telling us - we must be more inclusive. That our message will get lost if we are not more inclusive - the Word of God consistently points to the exclusive nature of the truth. The Lord reigns. There can be only one.
The Psalmist here points this out in verse 7 of our text today
All who serve carved images, those who boast in worthless idols, will be put to shame. All the gods must worship him.
This is a common and consistent theme throughout Scripture - those who worship idols are foolish for doing so. They are worthless and Scripture repeatedly points to the futility of this practice
With whom will you compare God? What likeness will you set up for comparison with him? An idol?—something that a smelter casts and a metalworker plates with gold and makes silver chains for? A poor person contributes wood for a pedestal that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not fall over.
I have not spoken in secret, somewhere in a land of darkness. I did not say to the descendants of Jacob: Seek me in a wasteland. I am the Lord, who speaks righteously, who declares what is right. “Come, gather together, and approach, you fugitives of the nations. Those who carry their wooden idols and pray to a god who cannot save have no knowledge.
I remember the practice in Japan that those who would seek to communicate with the spirits at one of temples we visited on a sight seeing tour would have to wash their hands and then ring a gong or bell to wake the spirits up. What a sad state to find oneself in. Scripture tells us the spiritual state of all those who follow such practices in idolatry
Their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk. They cannot make a sound with their throats. Those who make them are just like them, as are all who trust in them.
Now very few of us have idols made of gold and silver in our homes. Instead we have idols of silver and gold - but not carved into images. Instead they have images carved on them as we chase the all mighty dollar. We have idols of flesh and blood. We worship ourselves and seek to put our own lord on the throne.
But there is no room for equivocation when it comes to Lordship - God does not share. The article used implies that there is a specific Lord that the writer has in mind - Yaweh.
The eighteenth century theologian Jonathan Edwards said this “Having formed in their minds such a God as suits them, and thinking God to be such a one as favors and agrees with them, people may like him very well…when they are far from loving the true God.” The writer of this Psalm has written “The Lord reigns”. It would behoove us as we look in to this Psalm to understand exactly which Lord he is writing of so that we can avoid the common error (that is just as common in our day as it was in Edwards) of which Edwards speaks.
Yaweh. The name is so holy that the scribes would go through great cleansing rituals of body washing and changes of clothes just to write the name. The Lord. I Am. The Holy of Holies. The sovereign God. The Creator of the universe - with only a word. The Psalmist writes in verse 9
For you, Lord, are the Most High over the whole earth; you are exalted above all the gods.
Before that though he gives us a view of this majestic God who reigns.
Clouds and total darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne. Fire goes before him and burns up his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax at the presence of the Lord— at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness; all the peoples see his glory.
Clouds and total darkness surround Him. This is shocking to our contemplation as we think of God as a God of light and no darkness resides within Him or near Him. This is an image of the manifestation of God on Mount Sinai during the giving of the Law.
On the third day, when morning came, there was thunder and lightning, a thick cloud on the mountain, and a very loud blast from a ram’s horn, so that all the people in the camp shuddered.
Mount Sinai was completely enveloped in smoke because the Lord came down on it in fire. Its smoke went up like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain shook violently.
This is a picture of God’s holiness and is the same view that we are given when Isaiah is brought into the throne room of God
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphim were standing above him; they each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another: Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Armies; his glory fills the whole earth. The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.
God’s holy attributes are on display as the foundation of His throne. The Lord who reigns is not a capricious, whimsical God who is prone to inconsistent outbursts - He is instead a good and fair judge who is always consistent in His judgements based in His righteousness and justice. His justice goes forth from His throne in the form of fire that consumes His enemies but even in this His righteousness is demonstrated as those who are His children are spared.
His lightning lights up the earth, the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax - we cannot bear up against the holiness of God. He is so majestic and mighty and His holiness is so pure that we - like the mountains in this Psalm - would melt in His presence. He is righteous and the Heavens proclaim His righteousness - both the angels in song and the stars in their testimony to His creative works.
What measure of arrogance must we have to think we can reduce God to our level? To think of Him as one like us and therefore one easily understood, controlled or in some cases dismissed. To think of Him as one that we can understand or grasp. American preacher Edward Payson once said “God. How much this title implies no tongue, human or angelic, can express. It is a volume of an infinite number of leaves and every leaf full of meaning. It will be read by saints and angels, through the ages of eternity, but they will never reach the last leaf, nor fully comprehend the meaning of a single page.”
This Lord that the Psalmist speaks of here is not one to be trifled with. He is not one who is easily dismissed. He is sovereign. He is holy. And He is reigning.
This verb has been the cause of debates through out history as to the correct interpretation. Because of this it has been translated The Lord has reigned, The Lord is reigning and the Lord will reign. The truth is that all of these is correct.
The Lord has reigned - there has never been a time that the Lord was not reigning supreme over the universe. Before time began He existed and was reigning. The Bible doesn’t make a case for the existence of God - it simply assumes His existence “In the beginning God” there has never been a time when He wasn’t. There has never been an instance in time when He wasn’t reigning.
He is reigning now - as dismal a state as our world may appear to be in, God is on the throne and is orchestrating events to suit His purposes for His glory and for the good of His people. He has not recused Himself from current events or turned them over to another. He reigns now just as He always has.
The Lord will reign. There is no upcoming election. There is no term limit to God’s sovereignty. There is no expiration date on His Lordship. For all the other interpretive difficulties the book of Revelation presents - one thing is very clear God wins and reigns supreme. And the outcome is not in doubt now, nor has it ever been. As we said earlier - there is no debate, there can be only one. The Lord Reigns.
Does this bring you joy today? Does He reign in your heart? The biggest thief of joy that we have is not Satan or his minions. It resides within our own hearts. It is our own desire to be the reigning lord over our own lives. It is a thief that will constantly seek to reassert those desires if we are not submitting to Christ’s Lordship over our life daily. He, who was there at the beginning and before creation. He who came in the form of a baby, who did not consider it loss to take the form of His creation. He who brings light into the hearts of those who are submitted to Him.
Light dawns for the righteous, gladness for the upright in heart. Be glad in the Lord, you righteous ones, and give thanks to his holy name.
True joy is found in one place - The Lord reigns. Does He reign in your heart today?