If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 95 as we continue to make our way through the Fourth Book of the Psalms. That Fourth Book begins in Psalm 90 and runs all the way to Psalm 106, and we’re working our way through these blessed Psalms together.
We’ve said repeatedly that the Psalms express for us the whole range of Christian experience and give us direction as to how we are to express our Christian experience, this Psalm that we’re about to study today is about worship. There’s nothing more important in the Christian life than worship. There’s nothing more important that we do than worship; and, we not only worship in all of life by glorifying and enjoying God in everything, we worship with the saints as we are gathered Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day, morning and evening, to give to Him the glory due His name, and so it’s very appropriate that we would be studying a Psalm calling us to worship as we have been called to worship by the words of this Psalm in this very worship service.
Now let me outline Psalm 95 for you before we even read it, so that you can follow along with greater understanding. This Psalm can be outlined in four parts; in fact, the outline of this Psalm that I’m about to give you is going to be the outline of the sermon, and you can outline it in four words: “Come – For – Worship – Today.”
“Come” – Verses 1 and 2 give us a call to worship. It’s God’s call to us to come, and we want to understand the significance, the gospel significance, of the call to worship that is given to us in verses 1 and 2. There’s the first part of the Psalm. That’s the first point of the sermon.
“Come for….” – Now you know that the word for can mean because, and in fact verses 3-5 tell us the reason why we are to worship God, the reason why we’re to sing songs of thanksgiving and to give joyful praise to Him. So the second part of this Psalm you’ll find in verses 3-5, and it gives the “for” – the “because” – the reason for – why is it we ought to worship. It’s described in verses 3-5.
The third part of the Psalm – “Come for worship…” – tells us what we do when we worship God. What is it to worship God? Well, there are lots of legitimate ways that the Bible talks about that, but this Psalm, especially in verse 6 and the first part of verse 7, gives us three very graphic Hebrew verbs to describe what it is that we are supposed to do when we worship God together. And so “Come” is the first part (1 and 2); “for” is the second part (verses 3-5); “worship” is the third part (verses 6 and 7); but just the first part of verse 7, because the fourth part of the Psalm happens half-way through verse 7 and runs through to verse 11. And that’s the word “today.”
Today. In that part of the Psalm, we have surprisingly…you’re not expecting this. This is a very upbeat Psalm from verses 1-7a. When you get to 7b-11, it is very solemn and sobering. It’s arresting! It’s supposed to be, because that part of this song is a warning. (Imagine worship and warning in the same sentence!) Well, there’s a logic to it, and a very significant logic to it. It connects very directly to worship. And especially for those of us who have perhaps grown up going to church, grown up gathering with Christians to worship, the warning of verses 7-11 is very important for us.
So there we have it: “Come for worship today” – the four parts of this Psalm, the four parts of the message. Now let’s pray and ask for God’s help and blessing as we prepare to hear His word.
Heavenly Father, by Your Holy Spirit open our eyes to behold wonderful truth in Your word, and open our ears and hearts so that we are not only hearers, but also doers of Your word. Do this by the grace of Your Holy Spirit. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Hear the word of the living God from Psalm 95:
“Oh come, let us sing to the Lord;
Let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving;
Let us make a joyful noise to Him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
And a great King above all gods.
In His hand are the depths of the earth;
The heights of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For He is our God,
And we are the people of His pasture,
And the sheep of His hand.
Today if you hear His voice,
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
As on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
When your fathers put Me to the test
And put Me to the proof, though they
Had seen My work.
For forty hears I loathed that generation
And said, ‘They are a people who go astray in their heart,
And they have not known My ways.’
Therefore I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest.’”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Worship is what we were made for. If you look on the front of your bulletin, you’ll see the words “To glorify and enjoy God.” It comes from The Westminster Shorter Catechism, and the first answer to the first question, which asks, “What is the chief end of man?” and answers, “To glorify and enjoy God forever.” That’s what we’re made for, to worship. It’s the most important thing we do, and we not only do it when we gather on the Lord’s Day, but we’re called to do it in all of life.
But perhaps we miss the greatness of the privilege of the worship of God because it is certainly something that we ought to do, but do you realize that it is something that you can’t do unless God helps you? Do you realize that you can’t worship God unless God, by His grace, through His Spirit, in the gospel of His Son, enables you to worship? Well, if you don’t realize that, I hope you’re in for a treat as we study this great passage together, because in the very first word of this Psalm the gospel appears and shows us how all of our worship must be gospel worship – and it’s the word come.
The first thing that we see in this Psalm is the very overture of God’s grace in the gospel in saying, “Come,” to us. Have you ever realized that when you hear the minister speak God’s word to you, read God’s word to you in the call to worship, when you hear that call through the minister from God to come and worship Him, you are hearing the gospel extended to you? Do you remember in the garden that when Adam and Eve sinned and rebelled against God, God did what? He drove them out of the garden, and He said to them, “Go!” And He put flaming cherubim at the gate of the garden so that no one could come back into His presence. God, for penalty against their sin, drove them from His presence and from the garden. And so when we hear in this Psalm and other Psalms the word come, that word itself speaks the grace of God in the gospel to us.
Do you realize that for God to say to you, “Come, come fellowship with Me, come into communion with Me, come worship Me, come with joyful song and praise Me”…do you realize that it cost God the blood of His own dear Son to issue you that invitation and command?That when God says to you, “Come,” He bids you come only because of the shed blood of Jesus Christ? He bids you do something that you couldn’t do except for the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. So when you hear a psalmist call you and say, “Come,” you are hearing the overture of God’s expensive mercy to you in Jesus Christ.
It is not a mistake that Jesus in John 11:28 says,
“Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Jesus is making it clear that He, like His Father, has the authority to call us to come to Him, and that He alone provides the way in which we may come to the Father. This call to worship, this call to joyful, thankful, praising song, and to fellowship and communion that we see in verses 1 and 2 is a picture of the gospel itself.
But there’s something else that we also need to see about this call to worship. This call to worship reminds us that as in all the Bible, so also in the Old Testament there are at least two ways we can worship God. We can worship God – and we should worship God – in all of life.
Let me ask you to take your Bibles out and turn forward from the Psalms to the small minor prophet Jonah. It may be a small book, but it is an important book, and in that book Jonah tells us in description of himself (Jonah 1:9) this. He’s interestingly talking to these men who are pagans (they’re Gentiles), and he is getting ready to flee from God’s command to him. And they say, ‘Now hold on, fellow. Just who are you?’ And look at how he answers in verse 9:
“I am a Hebrew, and I fear [or I worship] the Lord God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.”
Now, Jonah’s answer is not to be interpreted this way: ‘I’m a Hebrew, and I worship God every Friday night in the synagogue.’ That’s not what he’s saying – ‘I’m a Hebrew, and I go to worship every Sabbath day.’ No, what Jonah is saying, ironically, here is, ‘I am a Hebrew, and I worship God, the one true God who made the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land…I worship Him with everything that I am and everything that I do. I worship Him in all of life.’ Now what’s the irony? The irony is that at the very moment that he’s telling these pagans this he’s doing what? He’s running away from God. He’s running away from God’s commandment. But the point still stands. What Jonah says ought to have been true of him, because all God’s people are to worship God in all of life.
Have you ever been talking with a friend, and in the course of the conversation it comes up that you go to First Presbyterian Church? And you’re talking with them…and after you say that you go to First Presbyterian Church, they get a little bit of a funny look on their face and they seem a little bit embarrassed. And then your friend says, ‘Well, you know, I don’t go to church. But I can worship God on my boat in the middle of the lake just as well as you can at church on Sunday.’ Or, ‘I can worship God teeing off on the back nine just as well as you can at church on Sunday.’ What you do you say to that? Well, one thing that you could say is, “Well, we are supposed to worship God in all of life, whether we’re on our fishing boat or teeing off on the back nine or at work, or being a good husband and father to our children, or good children to our parents, or serving the Lord with gladness in school, or loving our neighbor in time of need. We are to worship God in all of life…although you ought to be there in church on Sunday.”
But the Bible also makes it clear that we are not just to worship God in all of life, we are to gather with God’s people on His day and worship Him. And where do we learn that in this Psalm? We learn it with the word come.
You see, the psalmist is saying, stop what you’re doing, leave what you’re doing behind, and come to God. Meet with Him. Praise Him. Thank Him. Fellowship with Him. Commune with Him. Stop what you’re doing and leave it behind, and come. Come with the other people of God and worship Him. Do you realize that? That you need to come with the gathered people of God and publicly worship Him Lord’s Day morning and evening, week by week? Do you realize you need that? Do you realize that God made you to do that? Do you realize that that pattern of worshiping God in all of life and with His people gathered week after week on the Lord’s Day is a pattern set down in the word? That God made you for it?
This Psalm calls us to come and gather with the people of God. How important that is in our 24/7 world, where you’re never unplugged from work, you’re never unplugged from the technology of life, and your life is drowning in the trivial! How important it is to leave what we’re doing behind and come with God’s people to God.
Have you noticed that in the Gospels that the Lord Jesus not only worshiped Sabbath after Sabbath, but very often even at other times during the week He would do what? He would go away from His disciples, and He would go to some remote location. And do you know why he would go away from His disciples and to that remote location? He would go so that He could “come.” He would go from His disciples and from His work so that He could come into the presence of His Father.
And, you see, when the minister stands up before you on the Lord’s Day morning or the Lord’s Day evening in the service and calls you to “Come, let us worship…” he’s bidding you to leave your work behind, leave your cares and your burdens behind, and come to God through Jesus Christ. So there’s the first thing we see in this Psalm about worship: this call to joyful, thankful, praising song, and to fellowship and communion is a gospel call – God’s very call to you to come depends upon the gospel. It’s expensive. It cost God much, but He offers it to you freely. And for you to be able to come into His presence and worship Him is something of tremendous, tremendousprivilege as well as importance.
II. For – Why we ought to come.
Now there’s a second thing that we learn in this Psalm as well, and that is the reason why we ought to come. You know, one of the interesting things is when you look at the worship songs and praise songs that were written from about 1968 to the early 2000’s, you will find that many, many, many of those songs are filled with praising and worshiping and exalting God – but that most of them do not tell you why you ought to praise and worship and exalt God. There’s a lot of praising and worshiping and exalting going on, but there’s no explaining as to why we ought to praise and worship and exalt God.
That is unlike the Psalms, because the Psalms, almost every time they ask you to worship God they tell you why you ought to worship God. And in this Psalm at least four reasons are given why you ought to worship God. You see them not only in verses 3-5, but you see them in 6-7. There are two reasons given in verses 3-5 and there are two reasons given in verses 6-7. This is not exhaustive, but these are pretty good reasons to worship God.
Why? When we come for worship, what do we come for? Why do we come to worship? Because of what reason do we worship God? Well, the psalmist tells us. Look at verse 3:
“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”
He’s sovereign. His majesty is over all. The peoples may worship thousands of false gods, but God is above them all. He’s greater than any god, any claimed god, any false god.Verse 4:
“In His hand are the depths of the earth;
and the heights of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, for He made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.”
Second reason – God created everything and He rules the world. That’s a pretty good reason to worship God. He created everything and He rules the world. But it doesn’t stop there. Look at verses 6 and 7:
“Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
Why should we worship God? He not only made the world, He made me. And in verse 7:
“We are the sheep of His hand.”
He not only made me, but He is my Shepherd.
Why should I worship God? Because He’s sovereign over all, because He made the whole universe, because He made me, and because He cares for me.
You know, as I was reading this passage it dawned on me that verses 6-7 are the verses from which we get the answer to the little Children’s Catechism question, “Why should you glorify God?” And do you remember what it answers? “Because He made me and takes care of me.” And do you know where that comes from? Psalm 95:6-7. Why do we worship God? Because He made me and He takes care of me. Those are all good reasons to worship the living God: because of God’s kind providence over us; His tender care for us; because He created us and everything else and rules it by the word of His power. Because of His providence, we ought to worship Him.
My friends, if you feel like, as you gather together for worship with the people of God, that you’re just going through the motions, let me suggest to you that the truths of verses 3-7 must not be presently gripping your soul…if you’re just going through the motions. But if you realize that your Maker made you, and that the One who flung worlds into being – speaking them into existence by the word of His power – loves you and cares for you, you will not but be able to worship with gladness in your heart when you come into His presence.
If you really believe what the Bible says, if you really believe what the Bible says about God making this world, the only question you have to ask against Christianity is ‘You’ve got to be kidding! That the God that made this massive universe, in which there are hundreds of billions of galaxies, really cares about a being so small and insignificant as you or me?’ And the Bible’s answer is, ‘You better believe it! Because He not only made that universe, He made me. And He loves me in Christ Jesus, and He takes care of me.’ If that won’t help you worship, my friend, I don’t know what will.
III. Worship – What we are to do when we come.
And then, third, in verses 6-7 we not only see that we are called by the gospel and by grace to worship, and we not only see that we’re called because of who God is, because of what God has done, to worship Him; we see what we’re called to do. What is it exactly that we’re called to do? We’re called to worship – to worship God. Yes, but what does that mean? What does it mean to worship God?
Well, let me say very quickly there are all sorts of ways that the Bible describes what it means to worship God. We’re going to study one of them very, very soon. If you’ll turn to Psalm 96:7-8…Psalm 96:7-8 give you a really good definition of worship. You know what they say? They say, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory and strength due His name.” Well, that’s a great definition of worship. What is worship? It is ascribing or giving to the Lord the glory and strength due His name. It’s basically saying, “God, You are who You are, and who You are is deserving of glory and praise, and I’m here to give it to You.” So that’s a perfectly good definition of worship.
But in our passage today, and I want to draw your attention especially to verse 6, you will see three verbs consecutively that all actually mean the same thing and form a graphic word picture of what worship is. Listen to it. In your English translation it reads,
“Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!”
Now in the Hebrew, the fact of the matter is that three consecutive verbs are used, all of which mean “bow down.” So if we were being woodenly literal – and your English translation, by the way, is perfectly good as it reads – if we were being woodenly literal, this verse would say, “Come, bow down, bow down, bow down.” Now do you think the psalmist has a point he wants to make? Yes, he does! And what is that point? The point is that our God is so mighty, so awesome, that we need to acknowledge that by prostrating ourselves before Him. This is not polite Anglican kneeling on a bench. This is face down, sprawled out, lips in the dirt, hands spread eagle, bowing before the awesome God because He made the world. This is a prostration before our mighty Maker and our tender Shepherd.
And yet…and yet it is not the prostration of servile servants to a heartless tyrant. In fact, as awe-inspiring as He is, and as deferential and reverential as we ought to be as we bow before Him, this is an act filled with joy for the believer. Go back and look at verses 1-2. Over and over it’s stressed: “Let us sing…let us make a joyful noise…let us come with thanksgiving…let us make a joyful noise with songs of praise.” These believers who are prostrating themselves before the Lord cannot contain the energy of their joy and delight and happiness and blessedness in their bodies! Their bodies are trembling with joy as they bow before the living God.
My friends, our worship could do with more of that kind of intensity and passion. I was telling some friends in Sunday School today that our friend R.C. Sproul was worshiping at the Pastor’s Conference with the Sovereign Grace Fellowship last year as he taught the pastors’ assembly there. And that dear group of charismatic brethren are very loud and very vigorous in their worship! And at the end of teaching the pastors, C.J. Mahaney was so appreciative to R.C. Sproul that he gave him a present. He gave him a present of a signed, official Pittsburgh Steelers football helmet. Now if you know R.C. Sproul, that’s about the best gift that you could give him, because he loves the Pittsburg Steelers! And R.C. was very, very thankful for this gift that had been given to him, but he said to C.J. – you know R.C. couldn’t get by without making a joke. He said, “C.J., my only complaint is that you didn’t give me this helmet before the worship service, because I was afraid that your forearm was going to smash into my head and I was going to have my skull crushed on the spot during the worship service!” They are very vigorous and loud and physically active in their worship services when the Sovereign Grace folks gather!
Well, I’m not suggesting that we import that to First Presbyterian Church, but boy! in the midst of a reverential form, we could do with that kind of intensity and passion and joy as we come into the presence of the Lord because, my friends, we have been forgiven. And we have been shown mercy and grace. And there ought not to be happier or humbler people on the planet Earth than those who realize that the sovereign mercy and grace of God has risen upon them in Jesus Christ; and that ought to be fuel for our public worship together Lord’s Day after Lord’s Day. We ought never simply go through the motions. There ought to be energy pulsing in our veins because of the realization that we have received the grace of God in Jesus Christ. Worship…bow down with joy before your mighty Maker and your tender Shepherd.
IV. Today – A warning.
But there’s one more thing. There’s a warning, isn’t there, in this passage? And it surprises you. You’re not expecting this. It’s been so upbeat, so uplifting, so encouraging all the way down to the middle of verse 7, and then suddenly, “Do not harden your hearts.” What’s going on here?
The passage quoted of course refers to the children of Israel’s testing of the Lord in Exodus 17 at the waters of Meribah, and it refers to Moses’ own unfaithfulness at the waters of Massah in Numbers 20. And you remember what happened as a result of this. As a result of the unbelief of the children of Israel in Exodus, as a result of the disrespect which Moses showed for the word of God in Numbers 20, neither the generation of the children of Israel from Meribah nor Moses entered into the Promised Land.
And so what is the message of the psalmist to you and me? The message is you cannot worship God with an unbelieving heart. You cannot worship God if you do not take Him at His word. You cannot worship God if you do not believe on Christ as He is offered in the gospel. True worship is by faith, and unbelief is inconsistent with it. We cannot live our week unbelieving in God’s word, untrusting of Jesus Christ, unresponsive to the gospel of grace, and then come in and manufacture worship. It cannot happen. Worship must be by the Spirit, by grace, by faith in Jesus Christ, believing in God’s word, submitting our will to Him and following Him on the pilgrimage. All of this is a part of true worship. And it’s such an important message for us. May God bless His word.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, grant that we would worship by the gospel of Your dear Son, in spirit and in truth. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.