If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 148. This psalm is one of five nature psalms that you find in the Psalter. It is a psalm that, like the other nature poems, handles its material in such a way to reflect all praise to God. So instead of nature worship, it is a call for nature to worship God. Instead of worshiping nature as if it were the product of its own self-creation, we're acknowledging God as the author of the entire created order and calling upon that created order to worship God. Now this psalm is filled with doxologies. Doxologies are little words of praise or commands or exhortations to praise God. And then alongside of those doxologies, especially in the first part of the psalm and in the first part of the second half of the psalm, there are a series of exhortations to heavenly bodies and to creaturely animals and even phenomena that aren't able to understand or respond to the exhortation. And it's a literary device in order to emphasize that God alone should receive praise and that everything has been created for His praise.
The psalm falls into two parts. If you look at verses 1 to 6, those verses exhort the upper world, the heavenly world. Notice the words, “Praise the LORD from the heavens.” So the upper world, the heavenly world, is called upon to give praise to God. And a reason for that is provided in verses 5 and 6. So in verses 1 to 6 in the first part, there is an exhortation to praise the Lord from the heavens. And the reason for that exhortation is given in verses 5 and 6. Then the second part of the psalm comes in verses 7 to 14 where now the earthly world or the lower world is called upon to worship God. And you see again the exhortation of verse 7, “Praise the LORD from the earth.” And again, at the end of that section, a reason is given for the praise of God. You see it in the second half of verse 13 and in verse 14. So we see a perfect parallel in this psalm.
Let's look to God in prayer before we read it and study it together.
Heavenly Father, we thank You that at the end of Your day we are in Your Word together. Grant that by Your Word our worship would not only be informed but inspired. Move us in gratitude for what You have made and for what You have done in redemption to praise You with sincerity and with intensity, to offer to You worship in spirit and truth. Teach us from Your Word, we pray, this night, in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise Him in the heights! Praise Him, all His angels; praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon, praise Him, all you shining stars! Praise Him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD! For He commanded and they were created. And He established them forever and ever; He gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all deeps, fire and hail, snow and mist, stormy wind fulfilling His word!
Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! Beasts and all livestock, creeping things and flying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! Young men and maidens together, old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the LORD, for His name alone is exalted; His majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for His people, praise for all His saints, for the people of Israel who are near to Him. Praise the LORD!”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
The sermon tonight is titled, “All Creatures of Our God and King.” Now one reason for that is, though it is true that Saint Francis of Assisi who wrote that hymn, or at least the poetry behind the paraphrase of the translation of that hymn that we sing, meditated not only on Psalm 145 verse 10 but on Psalm 148 when he composed that piece of poetry called “The Canticle of the Sun,” which William Draper paraphrased in sort of a translation that he did in the 19th century. And that's the song that we sing today and attribute it to Saint Francis. Many of you may not have heard Saint Francis’ original text of “The Canticle of the Sun.” It was, by the way, generally acknowledged to be the first composition in Italian. It was from an Umbrian dialect as the modification of the ancient Latin of the early medieval world became the modern day Italian. And it's generally attributed as the first piece of Italian literature. Here it is in English translation:
“Most high, all powerful, all good Lord! All praise is yours, all glory, all honor, and all blessing. To you, alone, Most High, do they belong. No mortal lips are worthy to pronounce your name.
Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them bright, precious, and beautiful.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.
Be praised, My Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, through whom you brighten the night. He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong.
Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, who feeds us and rules us, and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs.
Be praised, my Lord, through those who forgive for love of you; through those who endure sickness and trial. Happy those who endure in peace, for by you, Most High, they will be crowned.
Be praised, my Lord, through our Sister Death, from whose embrace no living person can escape. Woe to those who die in their sin! Happy those she finds doing your most holy will. The second death can do no harm to them.
Praise and bless my Lord, and give thanks, and serve him with great humility.”
Now it's that original “Canticle to the Sun” or “The Praises of the Creatures” that was translated into our hymn, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” and you can hear Saint Francis picking up some of these themes that we find in Psalm 148. Well as we look at the two parts of this psalm tonight, I want to draw your attention to three or four things.
WORSHIP THE CREATOR, NOT THE CREATURE
And the first thing is, this psalm is designed to show us that it is the Creator who is to be worshiped, not the creature. And it shows us that the Creator is to be worshiped not the creature by exhorting the creature to worship the Creator. As you know, in both Old Testament and New Testament, the worship of exalted beings, angel worship, and the worship of the heavenly host, was a natural feature of pagan worship. It was something that God warned against in the Old Testament in the days that Israel came into the land of Canaan and it was something that was warned against in the New Testament. You remember, Paul, in the little letter to the Colossians in chapter 2 verse 18 telling the Colossians not to be deceived by the worship of angels. You remember Stephen, in his great sermon in Acts chapter 7 verse 42 saying that the children of God had been brought out of Egypt by God's mighty hand and yet they had rejected the worship of God and they had begun to worship the heavenly host. You know that we're told in 2 Kings chapter 17 and chapter 21 that one of the things that Ahab was doing in the northern kingdom was worshiping the heavenly host. And this is something that was a reversal of what creation was made to do. Creation was not made to be worshiped; creation was made to give praise to God. And so in both Old Testament and New Testament we are warned against the worship of angels and the worship of the created order, even the highest created order — the stars and the sun and the moon.
And this psalm supplies us a reason for that. And we're told that reason if you’ll look in verses 5 and 6. “Praise the LORD from the heavens; let them praise the name of the LORD” — so verse 1 and then down to verse 5 — “for He commanded and they were created, and He established them forever and ever and He gave a decree and it will not pass away.” So the created order, the angels and the heavenly host, are to give praise to God because He made them. They are not superior over God, they are not equal to God; He brought them into being. He commanded and they were made. He spoke and they were created. He gave a decree and it will not pass away. And so His creation of the angels and of the upper world shows His sovereignty and it shows that He alone is to be worshiped.
And that's the first thing that this psalm shows us. It gives us the reason that undermines angels worship and worship of the heavenly host, which were common not only in the ancient world — you know we think we live in a very sophisticated world now, but in newspapers, such newspapers as still exist today, and online in online versions, there's still what, every week in newspapers? Horoscopes. People think their world is ruled by the positions of the stars, the planets, and the sun, and the moon. And this psalm is reminding us that those things are not sovereign, God is. Creation was created for God's praise, and because of sin, that praise is corrupted. The world is not now divided between those who worship and those who don't. Everybody worships. The world is divided between those who worship the Creator and those who worship something else, the creature. And this psalm is about putting that back into perspective so that we will worship only that which we ought to worship — God the Creator, not the creature, however exalted that creature is — whether it's sun or moon or angels. That's the first thing I want you to see.
GOD’S GLORY IS SEEN IN THE CREATED ORDER
The second thing I want you to see, again, has to do with the first part of the psalm — the exhortation that we praise the Lord from the heavens is based on not only God's making of the world, verse 5 — “He commanded and they were created” — but God's establishing of the order and the regularity of this world. Look at verse 6. “He established them forever and ever; He gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.” God's glory is seen in the created order and especially in the upper world, in the stars — as we were saying last week, the billions upon billions upon billions of stars – in the massive immensity of the universe that He has created, in the microscopic intricacy of that massive immensity of a world He has made and in the ordered regularity of the heavenly bodies. When we see those things, it ought to take our breath away that our God has created something so big, something so minutely complex, and something so amazingly ordered.
Now the interesting thing is, those who are materialists, those who do not believe in God but who believe that matter is all there is, the cosmos is all there is, they look at that very order and what conclusion do they draw? “This is so marvelously ordered that it does not need any explanation but itself.” And the psalmist is saying that is exactly the opposite conclusion from seeing the massive intricacy and ordered regularity of the world. We’re to say, “What kind of a God must have made this?” and give Him praise. And so it is one of the roots of unbelief to look at the created order and think that it's ordered regularity disproves the need for a Creator. That is quite the opposite! The massive, intricate, ordered regularity is a great testimony to the decree of God, His establishment of this world, and ought to lead us to praise Him. That's the second thing I want to say.
WHOLEHEARTED PRAISE RESULTS IN GREATER SIGHT
OF THE GOODNESS OF GOD
The third thing is this. As we give God wholehearted praise, when you give yourself to God in praise, what often happens is that you come away with a greater sight of the greatness of God. When you give yourself away in worship to God, one of the things that often happens is that you are given a greater sight of the greatness of God and that in turn can move you to yearn for help in praising Him because you know you can't praise Him as much as He deserves. And you've already sung about that tonight, by the way. Go back to that first song that we sang. Open your hymnals and look at hymn 18. By the way, did you notice who wrote this paraphrase of Psalm 148? Richard Baxter! The author of the famous book, The Reformed Pastor, which means something like, “The Revived” or “The Reviewed Pastor.” The great English Puritan of the 17th century wrote this paraphrase of Psalm 148. And notice what he says. He says, in the very first stanza, “You holy angels bright, who wait at God's right hand, or through the realms of light fly at your Lord's command, assist our song.” Angels, help us to worship! Help us to sing! We can't sing God's praises enough to match His deserving of praise, so help us! We sing that.
Turn forward in your hymnals. When you turn to hymn 76, “Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven,” look at the final stanza of that very well-known hymn by Henry Lyte — Henry Lyte who wrote the words to “Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken” that we sang tonight wrote this hymn tune as well. Look at the fifth stanza. “Angels, help us to adore Him.” Now notice the punctuation. It's not, “Angels, help us to adore Him” as if it's making a statement of fact. You know, angels do help us adore Him; that's true. It's a request. “Angels! Help us to adore Him! We can't worship Him as much as He deserves! Help us! We need a little help down here! Help us to praise Him!” And this psalm is reminding us of that very truth. Our hearts, when they are full of adoring views of the majesty and glory of God, begin to yearn that all creation would unite with us in the praise of God.
William Plumer quotes this from the commentator Scott, in his commentary on Psalm 148. “Every effort of the zealous believer to praise the Lord causes his unfounded excellencies to unveil themselves more fully to our enraptured, admiring, and thankful hearts. And thus, we become more and more conscious of our inability to praise God in a suitable manner. We therefore rejoice to reflect that there are innumerable hosts of angels before the throne in the heights of heaven who are able to praise Him in more exalted strains.” That's one of the reasons I always loved it when Derek would pray, usually in his opening prayer, about our praises being mingled with the praises of angels and arch angels. That's what happening. And this psalm is reminding us of that truth.
GOD’S GLORY REVEALED IN HIS REDEMPTIVE LOVE
One last thing I want to draw your attention to. Whereas the praise of the higher creation is rooted in the fact that God has simply commanded and created the angels and the sun and the moon and the stars, the praises of God's people, if you look in verses 13 and 14, are rooted in God's revealing Himself and in His redemption of His people. In the world of living creatures, God's glory is not only revealed in His creation, but it is revealed in His redemptive love. His name alone is exalted. “He has raised up a horn for His people, for the people of Israel who are near Him.” The psalmist is reminding us that the way God has chosen to manifest His glory most greatly is in His redeeming work as He displays His love for us at the cross of Christ. It's not simply that He brought His people out of the land of Egypt with signs and wonders and powers and across the Red Sea on dry land and into a land that He gave them, but that in order for Him to redeem His people, he shed the blood of His only begotten Son, and in that, He displays His love and His glory in a way that surpasses every other display of His glory. And it will be the theme of the songs of eternity and we will never tire of singing it.
But here's one last thought that I want to leave you with about that. That work of Jesus Christ — and by the way, it goes right along with the children's devotional tonight — one reason we worship on the Lord's Day, on Sunday, as Christians, is because the Lord's Day was the day in which the new creation began. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Jesus began to accomplish a miracle greater than the original creation. The original creation was made for the praise of God. Because we rebelled against God in sin, instead of the whole of the creation being devoted to the praise of God, part of the creation worships God who made it and a part of the creation worships the creature, worships ourselves. In the new creation, Jesus is restoring all things in Himself so that all of God's people and all of God's creatures, in eternity in glory, will all worship Him. None of them will worship the creature. They will only worship the Creator. And so, one of the glorious and blessed effects of the Gospel is to restore harmony in God's creation, bringing angels and men into one family in which Christ is the head of all, over all, and all things, as Paul says in Ephesians 1:10, are brought under the headship of Jesus Christ and all creatures worship the same God and Savior the way God meant it to be originally.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We ask that You would enable us to worship with such sincerity and intensity that we would have a greater sight of You and then would yearn for help in worshiping You. We ask, O God, that You would hear our prayer because we pray it in the name of Jesus Christ, in whom Your glory is manifest more greatly than anywhere else. Amen.
Would you please stand for the Lord's benediction?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.