If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to Psalm 117. This very short psalm, one psalm removed from a very long psalm, is a jewel and quoted in the New Testament — quoted in the New Testament in a very, very important passage on a very, very important topic because it's succinctly explains something about the plan of God in history that is vitally important for all Christians to know but it was especially important for them to understand it in the days of the early church. It's a short psalm but it's filled with big, huge, worldwide truths. And as we read it, I want you to be on the lookout for two or three things.
First of all, this psalm gives an exhortation to the entire world. The psalm is not just an exhortation to the people of God gathered in one particular place for worship, much less the people of God in the old covenant gathered perhaps at the temple or in some other place for worship, but it is an exhortation to the entire world, to all nations, to all tribes, to all tongues, to all people. So there's an exhortation for all people and in it there is an expression that all peoples would worship God because of His love and His faithfulness. And that means that this psalm looks for the nations to experience God's love and His faithfulness. So that's the second thing that we see in this psalm. And thirdly, underneath this, this psalm indicates that it is God's plan that the nations will experience His love and His faithfulness. And as we’ll see later on, that is why this psalm gets quoted in the New Testament to explain those very things.
Now let's pray before we read God's Word.
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word. Thank You for the exhortation and the promise and the plans that You set out in this little psalm. You packed so much into so few words and such big truths into such small words. So open up our eyes so that we may see and understand and rejoice. In Jesus' name, Amen.
This is the Word of God. Hear it:
“Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples! For great is His steadfast love toward us, and the faithfulness of the LORD endures forever. 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.
Let me take you back not quite two thousand years ago – nineteen and half centuries ago, give or take a few years. We’re, let's say, somewhere in the vicinity of Rome and we're gathered in someone's home and teaching is going on. A very, very famous and faithful Christian teacher is teaching in that gathering of believers in a home. We’re wrestling with a significant theological problem and the significant theological problem is a very practical one because our assembly of believers is made up both of Jewish believers living in Rome and non-Jewish believers living in Rome who have come to faith through the teaching of this very famous teacher. And the Jewish believers are struggling because though they believe in Jesus the Messiah and though they believe that there is no other name under heaven whereby a person can be saved except through Him, they come from a religious tradition which for at least fourteen hundred and fifty plus years they have been told to keep strictly distinct from the other nations and the other people. And even have a ceremonial law that makes it difficult for them to be able to sit down and have a meal with anyone who is not a Jew. And now, they’re being taught by this teacher that they need to accept Gentile believers as brothers and sisters and equally heirs to the promise that God had given to Abraham over two thousand years ago. And they’re wrestling with that. And the Gentile believers are wrestling too with how to relate to these Jewish believers, some of which are wary about even having table fellowship with them, inviting them into their home.
And so on that evening in that Bible study, that great teacher, his name is Paul, turns them to Psalm 117 to explain it. Now you say, “Your imagination's pretty active, Ligon, to come up with all that.” Not really. Turn your Bibles to Romans 15. In Romans chapter 15 verse 7, Paul is addressing exactly this issue with exactly those people in Rome and look at what he says. “Accept one another just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. For I say that Christ has become a servant to the circumcision on behalf of the truth of God to confirm the promises given to the fathers, and for the Gentiles to glorify God for His mercy. As it is written, ‘Therefore I will give praise to Thee among the Gentiles, and I will sing praise to Thy name.’ And again he says, ‘Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people.’ And again (here it is), ‘Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let the peoples praise Him.’” — Psalm 117 verse 1. “And again Isaiah says, ‘There shall come the root of Jesse, and He who arises to rule over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.’”
Paul stands up before the assembled group of believers and he explains from the Old Testament God's plan to bring the Gentiles together with His people into one body to praise His name, accepting one another and expressing their unity in the diversity of Jewish and Gentile believer gathered together in the name of Christ. And he goes to the Old Testament to express the fact that the Old Testament, in repeated occasion, looks for the hope of this happening. In other words, Paul's saying, “I haven't made this teaching up. I learned this teaching in my Bible.” And he goes right to the psalm that we're looking at tonight.
And did you notice how appropriate that it is that he goes to this psalm because this psalm in verse 1 begins with an exhortation for all the nations to praise God. And then in verse 2 it says why it wants all the nations to praise God — because of His love and because of His faithfulness. Now for the nations to praise God for His love and for His faithfulness, three things have to happen. First of all, they have to be told. Second, they have to have experienced His love and faithfulness if they’re going to praise Him for it. And third, God's people have to understand that this is God's plan so that they will tell the nations and so that they will work for their conversion so that they will be able to praise God for His love and faithfulness. So I want to look at those three things with you tonight very briefly in this small but glorious psalm.
TELL THE NATIONS
This psalm tells us that if we're going to be obedient to its exhortation to the nations we have to tell them. This psalm tells us that we have to tell them. How else will the nations know that God has exhorted them to praise Him? This is not merely a rhetorical device. You know, some Hebrews gathered in Jerusalem, sort of doing a victory dance. “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples!” This is not just the Jews saying, “Our God is better than your god.” This is an expression of a desire that is rooted in the plan of God to bring all nations to Himself and under the headship of Jesus Christ and they have to be told if they are going to be able to respond to this exhortation. And what does that require? It requires worldwide witness. For us to response to this psalm requires us to have a passion for worldwide witness, to bear witness to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation that God is God, that Jesus is the Christ, that He alone is the name whereby anyone under heaven can be saved. This psalm, if we understand it, requires world mission. And believers who understand this psalm have a passion for the nations to worship God. And so when we hear the words, “Praise the LORD, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples!” God is telling us that we must tell them that. Yes, the heavens are declaring the glory of God and yes, His line has gone out in all the earth as Psalm 19 reminds us, but this psalm is calling us to explicit testimony, to exhortation to all the peoples that they must praise the one, true God.
Now that is not a popular message today. That is a very politically incorrect message today. It's a very offensive message today. I was reading this week in a sermon that John Piper preached on this passage and he quotes an article from The Financial Times of all things, about nine years ago. And an author in London named Michael Prowse says this — “Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he expect us to worship him? We didn't ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled and we know that human tyrants puffed up with pride crave adulation and homage, but a morally perfect god would surely have no character defect, so why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?” You see the argument. The argument is for God to expect all the nations to praise Him is arrogant, narcissistic, self-centered, and immoral. There's the argument. So how do you answer that? And Piper turns to an interesting passage in C.S. Lewis because C.S. Lewis struggled with that same question but came to an entirely different conclusion than Michael Prowse and The Financial Times.
And here's what Lewis said:
“The most obvious facts about praise, whether of God or anything else, had strangely escaped me,” C.S. Lewis said. “I thought of it in terms of a compliment or approval or the giving of honor and I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless, sometimes even if, shyness, or the fear of boring others, is deliberately brought in to check it. You see, the world rings with praise — lovers praising their lovers, readers praising their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favorite game; praise of weather, praise of wine, praise of dishes, praise of actors, praise of motors, praise of horses, praise of colleges, praise of country, praise of historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars. I had not noticed how the humblest, and at the same time the most balanced and capacious minds praised the most, while the cranks, misfits, and malcontents praised the least.
I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneous praise what they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it. ‘Isn't she gorgeous?’ ‘Wasn't that glorious?’ ‘Don't you think it's magnificent?
The psalmist, in telling everyone to praise God, is doing what all people do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general difficulty about the praise of God, depended on my absurdly denying to us as regards the supremely valuable what we delight to do, what indeed we can't help doing, about everything else that we value. I think that we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not nearly expresses but completes our enjoyment. It is its appointed consummation.”
You see, the reason God seeks our praise is not because He won't be complete until we give it; it's because we won't be complete until we give it. And the psalmist is saying, “I want everyone to praise my God, the only God there is, because not He won't be complete until they do, but they won't be complete until they do. They won't know true joy until they praise the One who's more valuable than anybody else! They’re missing out! You see, that's the basis of world missions! We want everyone to join in the white-hot enjoyment of the worship of God, the only One who is eternally worthy of being praised. And so the psalmist tells us we need to tell them.
THE NATIONS EXPERIENCE THE LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS OF THE LORD
But there's a reason why Michael Prowse resents the idea of worship and that reason is he's never experienced God. He hasn't known God. He hasn't tasted and seen that the Lord is good. He doesn't know the Lord's covenant love, His steadfast love, or the old William Tyndale words, “His loving kindness.” He's never known the loving kindness of the Lord and he's never known the faithfulness of God; that God's promises are “yea and amen” in Christ, that He keeps His promises to His people. The reason he's so grudging in his thought of worship is he's never ever experienced God and that means, my friends, that in order for what this psalm exhorts to happen to happen, the nations have to experience the love and the faithfulness of God. Look at what verse 2 says — “For great is His steadfast love towards us.” In other words, God's gracious, merciful love prevails. “And the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.” His promises always are kept. And until you have experienced God's gracious and merciful love that prevails and embraced His promises that are always kept, until you are converted, you don't want to worship Him! And so this psalm requires that the nations experience this if they’re going to extol Him, if they’re going to praise Him. And that means there has to be worldwide worship rooted in a changed life where we're no longer worshiping ourselves or something else but we're worshiping God because we've tasted and seen that He is good. And so this psalm requires not only worldwide witness but worldwide worship for it to be fulfilled.
GOD’S PLAN FOR THE NATIONS
And it requires that God's people understand that that was His plan from the beginning and it is the plan that He is bringing to pass in Jesus Christ, that His purpose was not merely to bring Israel back from their idolatry to Him, but His purpose was to bring the people and the nations of the world back from their idolatry back to Him and for Jewish believer and Gentile believer together to magnify the name of the Lord. That is His worldwide plan.
And believers, you see, in order to fulfill this particular exhortation in this particular psalm have to have a passion for God's worldwide plan, a passion for God's worldwide worship, and a passion for worldwide witness. This psalm commits us to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. There are eleven thousand and something people groups in this world. Among six thousand of them, less than two percent of them are Bible-believing, Christ-embracing, Gospel-living people. Sixty-eight of those groups have more than ten million people in them. That ought to bother us when we go to sleep at night because this psalm has gotten into our bones and we want to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth! That's why we pray that there will be young people in this congregation who will devote their lives to taking the Gospel to the ends of the earth. The day that a believer loses passion for worldwide witness to God, to Christ, to the Gospel, that is a day when you have lost your passion for the very stuff of life for a believer. The day that the American church loses its passion, the day that this congregation loses its passion for worldwide witness will be the beginning of the end, not for God's worldwide plan but for our joy in participating in it because He’ll find somebody else.
And praise God we already see that happening, don't we? There are more Anglicans in Nigeria than in Britain and American combined. And if you want to find a Bible-believing bishop, go to Nigeria or Uganda; don't go to the United States or England. And they have a passion for worldwide witness and they have a passion for God to be worshiped worldwide because they understand God's worldwide plan and it enriches us when we understand that worldwide plan. You know, I think even forty years ago we would have been staggered to think, just to name three — I was thinking before I said this tonight, I was thinking about this over here, I'm going to leave somebody out when I say this. But this is not exhaustive; it's just an example. I don't think people in Jackson could have understood, even forty years ago, the contact with the international community that was going to be brought to us by the University of Mississippi Medical School, Reformed Theological Seminary, and Jackson State. But we see that reality in this room week after week. People from the far east, people from Africa, people from eastern Europe, people from all around the world that aren't like us and many of them come here as believers but many of them come here not as believers but they go back home as believers. And we get to see just a little bit, up close and personal, the worldwide plan of God.
Doesn't that excite you just a little bit? It does the psalmist! And that's why he said, “Praise the LORD! All nations, praise the Lord — all peoples! That's what I want to see and so I'm going to tell them and I'm going to pray that they experience His steadfast love and His faithfulness; His gracious, merciful saving love and His promises that never fail because I understand God's worldwide plan that ‘from earth's wide bounds, from oceans farthest coasts, will stream in through gates of pearl a countless host singing’ — just like we did tonight in a round — ‘to Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, alleluia, praise, You, the Lord.’”
And guess what? Not only that, we view them as they have come to faith in Christ as us. Look at the second verse. What does the psalmist wants the nations to praise God for? “That His steadfast love prevails; His grace towards” them? Towards us because by the Gospel in Christ, them has become us and we have become theirs and all are one in Him, in the Gospel.
Now that's something to praise God about. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, thank You for this little, big, life changing Psalm. In Jesus' name, amen.
Would you stand for God's blessing?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith through God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away.