The Lord's Day Morning
February 20, 2005
“Declare His Glory”
Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
Amen. If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Psalm 96, and as you do so, let me just remind you again that Psalm 96 has been chosen by our Missions Conference Committee to provide us with the theme and theme verses of this year's Missions Conference, which comes from the second and third verses of Psalm 96, and it's a very appropriate psalm for use at the Missionary Conference; and so it's my privilege to expound it to you today.
And there are a couple of things I'd like you to see about this psalm, and the first thing is simply this: it is a Messianic psalm. It is a psalm that points to the coming salvation of the Messiah, brought about by the Messiah, announced through the Messiah, accomplished in the Messiah. It's quite interesting…in one of the earliest translations of this Old Testament book, The Psalms for Christians, done by Assyrian Christians just a couple of centuries after the Lord Jesus Christ…in the Syriac version the one who translated this passage put into the margin that ‘this psalm is a prophecy concerning the advent of Christ, and the calling of the Gentiles who should believe in Him’. And it's a beautiful thing, isn't it, to think of those Syriac Christians–themselves Gentiles who had been called into the marvelous light of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel–knowing that this psalm was about the promises that God had fulfilled to them. And we today as Gentile Christians, by and large, not all of us, but most of us, Gentile Christians, too, can sing this psalm and hear this psalm knowing that God's mercies to the Gentiles in Jesus Christ the Messiah of Israel have been accomplished faithfully. And so this is a Messianic psalm: a song about Jesus the Messiah, and His gospel coming to the Gentiles.
But it is also a missionary psalm. Martin Luther called this a missionary hymn. He said that it's a prophecy about the kingdom of Christ, and about the spreading of the gospel to the ends of the earth…and of course he's absolutely right.
Hengstenberg, the great nineteenth century commentator, says this is a missionary hymn for all the ages of the church. And they’re so right. This is a psalm very apparently about missions, and about the desire of godly men and women who are part of the congregation of believers to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth, and the ends of the earth join in the praises of the one true God. And so as we come to this word this morning, let's bear those two things in mind. But before we hear that word read and proclaimed, let's look to God in prayer and ask for His help and blessing.
Our Lord and our God, this is Your word, and it stirs our hearts to think that three thousand years ago when David uttered these words on the occasion of his own coronation and the coming of the ark up to Jerusalem, that in his heart and mind was the glorious hope of the gospel, the reign and rule of God, the salvation of the Messiah going to the very ends of the earth. And here we are: thousands of miles away from that land of Palestine, across two oceans; and we have by Your mercy been brought into the glorious saving knowledge and union with Jesus Christ. and we praise You for this. As we hear this word today, speak to us and cause our hearts to burn with the desire David's heart burned with three thousand years ago. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
Hear God's word:
“Sing to the Lord a new song;
Sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, bless his name;
Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.
Tell of his glory among the nations,
His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.
For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;
He is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
But the Lord made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before Him,
Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the people,
Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory of His name;
Bring an offering, and come into His courts.
Worship the Lord in holy attire;
Tremble before Him, all the earth.
Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns;
Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved;
He will judge the peoples with equity.’
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
Let the sea roar, and all it contains;
Let the field exult, and all that is in it.
Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy
Before the Lord, for He is coming;
For he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
And the people in His faithfulness.”
Amen. And thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.
There are three things I want you to see in this great passage today. There is so much more that we could learn from the glories of Psalm 96, but as we think about missions and as we think about this psalm there are three things in particular for us to learn, and the first one is simply this:
I. Missions begins and ends with the worship of God.
Missions begins and ends with the worship of God. You notice how this psalm, especially in the first three verses, calls believers to worship God with the whole of their being. And the worship of God with the whole of our being is both the beginning of missions and the goal of missions. It is the beginning of missions because we learn here that part of the worship of God is the desire that all peoples will worship the one true God through Jesus Christ our Lord, and will give Him the glory due His name. That's part of the worship of God. You can't worship God fully as He intends in His word unless part of the desire of your heart is that all the nations, every man and woman and boy and girl in this world, would hear the gospel; and that a multitude that no man can number, from every tribe and tongue, and people and nation, would come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. That's part of worship. That's part of the desire of worship, and so that very worship of God, according to His word–and you see that emphasized here: “Sing to the Lord all the earth…” —there's the desire of the psalmist that all the earth would join in this praising of God.
And not only that, look at verse three where he said we're to “tell His glory to the nations”, and we're to “declare His wonderful deeds among all the peoples”. There's this desire in true worship to see all the nations participating in the worship of God, and that's for a very simple reason, because the very goal of missions is to see the nations brought into that worship of God.
We Presbyterians know that man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. Even if you've forgotten Question 106 of the questions and answers of The Shorter Catechism, you still remember that first question! And if the chief end of man is to glorify and enjoy Him forever, the desire of missions, you see, is for every tribe and tongue and people and nation to be brought into the glorious work of glorifying God and enjoying Him forever. The goal of missions is that every tribe and tongue and people and nation will glorify God and enjoy Him forever. And so that which is worship is the goal of missions as well, and this psalm makes it clear.
And notice how in the first three verses, six imperatives are used to emphasize that we are to worship God from the very depths of our being, with the whole of ourselves, with our whole selves. “Sing”, for instance, is repeated three times: “Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name….” Why? Because in singing, our minds, our hearts, are joined with our affections so that what we desire most is upon our hearts and united in those words, and lifted up to God in praise. It's a way of promoting whole-souled worship. That's why we sing.
Don't you love that line from the hymn that we sing from time to time, “Let those refuse to sing that never knew our God”? When you know the one true God, you respond with glorious singing.
I've told you before about the great nineteenth century professor of Old Testament John Duncan, no relation. He taught Hebrew at New College in Edinburgh. When he was a young man, he wasn't a believer. He grew up in a Christian home, but he struggled with atheism as a teenager, and when he went off to Aberdeen University, he still doubted the existence of God. And a godly philosophy professor at the University of Aberdeen was used of the Lord to help bring to him the ends of his doubts about the existence of God, and John Duncan tells us that on the day that he came to believe that there was a God, that he was not alone in this world, that he was not the product of the inexorable sequences of material reproduction and evolution, but that he had been created by God and that there was a God, that “he danced with joy on the brig o’ Dee in Aberdeen”!1 Now can you imagine a Victorian Scottish Presbyterian dancing for joy on the brig o’ Dee? But he did, because he was so relieved from the oppressive weight of living in the world without God. But you know what else John Duncan tells us? He tells us that he wasn't a Christian yet! He came to believe in the existence of God: it was only subsequent that he came to know God savingly through Jesus Christ, trusting in Him and resting in Him alone for salvation.
Now, friends! If he can dance for joy at simply the knowledge that there is a God, how much more ought we to sing for joy! How much more ought we to give ourselves in worship, when we have met by God's grace the living God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. And this is what the psalmist is calling us to do: to give the whole of ourselves back in praise to God.
You know, when Perestroika was bringing Communism down in Russia, and when the Wall was beginning to fall in Berlin and unrest was settling across all of the Communist countries in Eastern Europe, the Communist leaders gathered in Timisoara, Romania, to figure out how to resist this tidal wave in their own country. As they gathered in the building, people from all around the country gathered in the great center city of Timisoara, and they barricaded the Communist leaders into their buildings, and they began to chant. Do you know what they chanted? “There is a God! There is a God! There is a God!” For fifty years, that belief, that profession had been banned in that country, and as they saw this oppressive specter of Communism recede and begin to crumble around them, they came out to rally against the leaders of that old cause, and they chanted, “There is a God!”
Now, there is no telling what the various people in that multitude thought about God, but they knew that that was a revolutionary proclamation against that old atheist Communist government. If they could be excited and chant “There is a God!” in the public square, how much more ought we to “sing to the Lord a new song”?
You see, it is that worship of God from the depths of our heart, with our whole being, that fuels missions, because as we worship God we desire all the peoples to be brought into the worship of God. And so there's the first thing that we learn today: that missions begins and ends with, has a goal in worship.
II. Praise Him because of His great salvation.
But there's a second thing we learn, as well, and that is that the worship that missions begins and ends with is not just praise and adoration of a generic god, or of the existence of God, but it is praise for the God who has revealed Himself in Scripture and in Jesus Christ.
It is praise for God Himself and for His salvation. If we were to spend time to work through Psalm 96 verse by verse, you would see at least six things that the psalmist praises God for. Look, for instance, at verses 2-3. We praise God here for His salvation, for His glory, and for His wonderful deeds. All of those things are ways that believers express their gratitude to God for this great plan, this great work of salvation. And so the believer in Psalm 96 praises God, worships God, because of His salvation.
But not only that, look at verse 4: we praise God because He's great. While some cry “Allah is great”, the cry of the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is “The Lord is great, and greatly is to be praised!”
III. Proclaim Him and His glory to the nations.
Thirdly, notice we praise God because idols are nothings. You see that again in verse 5: “For all the gods of the peoples are idols….” Now, that seems to be a terribly arrogant and politically incorrect thing to say in a pluralistic, postmodern world like ourselves. After all, ‘truth is relative; there is no absolute truth; it's OK to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, as long as you expect no one else to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior; and certainly you do not believe that you are following the only true God.’
But notice how it is precisely that humble belief where believers who are sinners, who know they deserve judgment, realize that the one true God has met them in Jesus Christ and saved them from their sins though they do not deserve it, that drives them to go to the ends of the earth to tell other people about it! It is precisely because we have met the one true God in Jesus Christ that we go to the ends of the earth to tell everybody who will listen about the one true God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ.
You cannot worship God as you ought, until you know Him as He is. And you cannot know the true God until you know Him in His benefits; and you do not know Him in His benefits until you know Him in the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died in our place that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. And my friends, if you have been impacted by that truth and message, you can't keep quiet about it! And so the worship that flows from the grateful believer is a worship that flows in praise for God: who He is and what He's done…Himself and His salvation.
So we praise Him for His salvation, we praise Him that He is great, we praise Him that the idols are nothing, and we go on. We praise Him because He made everything. Look at what we see at the end of verse 5: “…the Lord made the heavens.” He's the Creator, and we praise Him because He reigns over everything and everyone. Look at what we see in verse 10: “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns….’” And we praise Him because He's the coming judge. Look at verse 13: “Before the Lord…all the fields will exult and the trees of the forest will sing….” Why? Because He is coming, coming to judge the earth. And we praise God that He is coming to righteously and faithfully judge the world.
Now all those reasons are reasons that are heaped up to praise God, but the point is simply this: if God has saved us–unworthy sinners, undeserving recipients of His grace–if He has saved us and revealed Himself to us in this manner, our attitude towards spreading the word about that to the nations ought to be not that we have to, but that we get to! And the glorious thing is, this psalm tells us we're not only allowed to bear that message, we're summoned by God to bear that message! And my friends, knowing God as He is, and knowing God in His salvation, knowing God through Jesus Christ our Lord fuels our work in missions.
IV. Missions not only begins and ends with the worship of God
But there's one more thing I want you to see. Missions not only begins and ends with the worship of God; the worship of God as He is and as He saves not only fuels the work of missions, but gospel worship always has its eyes on the nations. Oh, yes, first and foremost in worship our eyes are on the Lord, our focus is upon Him. But always there is that glance, that look, that longing that all the nations will participate in that worship, too. You see it in the very first phrase of the psalm: “Sing to the Lord a new song; Sin to the Lord, all the earth….Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.” (vs 3). Again, in verse 10: “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns….’ This psalmist in worshiping God is constantly thinking and desiring and longing that all the nations will come to worship God as well. And so, gospel worship always has as part of its agenda, as part of its desire, that all the nations would join with us in the worship of the one true God. And so we proclaim Him, and we proclaim His glory to the nations, and we long for them to join in His praise.
And so I want to ask you today, friends, is that part of the desire that you bring into God's house when you worship? And if you do–let me meddle a little bit–because if you do, it will show, and it will show in various ways. It will show in the degree of inconvenience that you are ready to experience to see this gospel go to the ends of the earth, and by that I don't mean having to come to all the meetings of the Missions Conference. That is a blessing, to be able to be around people who have devoted the whole of their lives to the spread of the gospel. The inconvenience that we experience in our schedule is not even on the radar screen of the inconvenience I'm thinking about.
I'm thinking about the inconvenience that interrupts life and vocation for the sake of the gospel, like when you decide, ‘Lord, maybe I need to be involved in short term missions work.’ Or, ‘Lord, maybe I need to put my career aside for a while and go to the mission field.’ Or, ‘Lord, I know that my son is on track to be a partner at the best law firm in town, but maybe he's being called to be a missionary…and make $25,000 a year for the rest of his life and never own furniture…and bring the gospel to people who live in Tanzania.’ Those are the kinds of inconveniences I'm talking about.
I'm asking you, “Are you ready to be inconvenienced for the sake of the gospel? And are you ready to sacrifice for the spread of the gospel?” If you have been impacted by this truth yourself, if you have met the Lord Jesus Christ and you savingly trust in Him, are you ready to sacrifice so that other people can know that same truth that you know? Can experience that same communion that you experience? Are you ready to sacrifice financially? We were saying before the service, something like 35% of this congregation gives the bulk of the money that is given for missions. Maybe you've never given before. Would you consider that today? Are you ready to sacrifice, and not only give, but are you ready to give sacrificially? Not just from the leftovers; are you ready to give so that this message would go to the ends of the earth?
You know, there are some people in this congregation who, if I, or they, told you the story of what they sacrifice to give to missions, it would humble you as it does me. But think, if all of us were that sacrificially committed to the work of missions…I think I've been told something like this: that the total amount of money given by American evangelical churches to missions every year equals less than that that we spend on soft drinks, and we give more money than any other nation in the world, and that's because of the amount of money the Lord has given us; but imagine, if our priorities were different, if missions were more important than soft drinks, it would be pretty phenomenal.
There may be some young people in the room today, and you think, ‘I can't make a Faith Promise. I don't have a salary.’ That's true. You may not even have an allowance! But you could give up a Coke every week, or a hamburger, or fries. And you could say, “Mom and Dad, could I give that to missions this week?”
And my friends, if you have met the living God in Jesus Christ, you are ready to be inconvenienced, and you are ready to sacrifice so that other people would come to know that living God in Jesus Christ. And that's what we're going to be about this week, and it's my prayer that God Himself will speak to you by His word and draw you by His Spirit to worship Him as the beginning and as the goal of missions.
Our Lord and our God, humble us, we pray, at the thought of the riches of Your grace poured out on us, and change our stingy hearts to grateful and generous hearts, so that we may declare Your glory among the nations. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.
[Congregational Hymn: Jesus Saves! Jesus Saves!]
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
1. The brig o’ Dee is the bridge of seven arches across the Dee River, at the south entrance to the city of Aberdeen.