As we continue our way through the fifth book of the Psalms, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 113. This psalm is a part of a set of psalms known as the Egyptian Hallel, a series of praise songs that are related to the Passover celebration and which praise God for His work of creation and redemption. And tonight as we look at this psalm we find yet another exhortation from the psalmist to us to worship God. And we should never get tired of God telling us in His Word to do the basic duties and aspects of the Christian life. We need those exhortations. Good coaches remind their players of basic parts of the games that they play, no matter how advanced they are. Musicians remind their students basic aspects of the practice of their particular craft, helpfully so, even if they’re very advanced in their particular vocation of music. And it's good for believers to be exhorted by God in His Word from the writers who have been inspired by the Holy Spirit to those basic things that we're called to do in the Christian life. And this psalm, again, is exhorting us to worship.
And as we look at this psalm tonight, I want you to be on the lookout for four things in particular. One, as we look at the exhortation that we meet in the very first words of this psalm, I want us to think again about what worship means and why it's so important. A few weeks ago, as we were looking at a very similar exhortation, I said that worship is the great battle of the Christian life — whether we will worship the one true God or whether we will worship something else. And that issue comes to the fore again here in this psalm.
Secondly, I want you to look as we come especially to the description of what is involved in worship, and you’ll see that description in the full sentences that follow after the exhortation, “Praise the LORD” in verse 1. I want us to look at what worship is and what it involves.
Then, I want you to be on the lookout — and you’ll see this especially in verses 2 to 4 — about the unseen but very real context of worship. I want you to think a little bit about the context of the worship that we do.
And then finally, you’ll see this especially in verses 5 to 9, I want us to see the reasons that are provided by the psalmist to us for why we should worship God. We've said many times that the psalms never ask us to worship God without telling us why we ought to. The reason is, the only kind of worship that God wants is worship that we truly want to give, and we won't truly want to give that worship unless there's a reason for us to want to give it and that reason resides in God Himself, and therefore we need to understand the reasons that impel us to worship, otherwise we will go through the motions. Ever gone through the motions in a worship service before? Ever gone through the motions when you were singing a hymn before? Ever zoned out in the ministry of the Word before, whether it was being read or proclaimed? It's a danger that all of us face, and the psalms provide us reasons why we ought to worship God so that we combat that kind of externalism and formalism and simply going through the motions in our worship. So be on the lookout for all of those four things as we read God's Word. And let's pause and pray and ask for God's blessing before we read and hear it.
Lord, this is Your Word and we delight to hear it and if we do not delight to hear it as we ought, we ask that by Your Holy Spirit we would. We pray that every word from Your mouth would not only be the substance of our belief, but we would derive edification from it, we would be profited by it, we would be built up by it as we hear the Word. We pray that this would not simply be an exercise in the study of Your Scripture which does not lead to a change of heart and life, but that our very study of Your Word would change the way we worship You for the better, would change the way we live for the better. And we ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is the Word of God in Psalm 113. Hear it:
“Praise the LORD! Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD! Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore! From the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised!
The LORD is high above all nations, and His glory above the heavens! Who is like the LORD our God, who is seated on high, who looks far down on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes, with the princes of His people. He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children. 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.
This is very likely the psalm or part of the psalms that Jesus and His disciples sang on the night that He was betrayed after He had celebrated the last Passover with His disciples and instituted the Lord's Supper and before they went out into the Garden of Gethsemane. We've been in the Garden of Gethsemane just in these last few weeks on Sunday mornings in the gospel of Luke. The hymn that they sang probably came from this hallel. It was perhaps, perhaps they sang through all of Psalm 113 to 118 or some conflation of that set of praises, but it's very likely from this material that that hymn came. If you've been to a Lord's Supper service here at First Presbyterian Church, you know that the very last thing that happens after we have feasted on the bread and on the cup together, is whoever is administering the Lord's Supper at that time reminds us that before they went out they sang a hymn. And we typically will sing something like, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” or “The Power of the Cross” or “In Christ Alone” or some great hymn or Gospel song at that point in time. Well, this is probably the song that was actually sung, and that would be very interesting to expound simply from that point of view. But I want us to see four things especially tonight. I want us to see how this psalm exhorts us to worship, how this psalm defines worship, how this psalm puts our worship in its proper context and gives us a striking set of reasons for worship. I want to look at those four things with you tonight.
THE IMPORTANCE OF WORSHIP
Let's start off looking at this psalms exhortation to worship, and you see it in the very first verse, in the last verse, and then you see it at the first verse at the very end again. “Praise the LORD” is how the song begins, “Praise the LORD” is how the song ends. And so there's this exhortation from the leader to us to give worship to God, to praise the Lord. And then we're told at the end of the first sentence, “Praise the name of the LORD.” So what we have here is an exhortation to worship, and exhortation to declare God's work, an exhortation to praise the Lord, an exhortation to give the Lord the glory due His name, an exhortation to ascribe to the Lord glory, to declare the worth of the Lord. And we learn even from that exhortation that worshiping God means valuing God more than anything. Even in the exhortation we are reminded to value God more than anything. Praise, not just anyone, praise, not just anything, but praise the Lord.
In The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England in the wedding service, after the bride and groom or groom and bride say to one another, “With this ring, I thee wed,” they say, “With my body, thee I worship.” Did you know that? It's a beautiful phrase in which the husband and wife in a wedding ceremony say, “With the whole of myself I will worship you.” Now of course that doesn't mean that they’re going to worship that person equal to or more than God, it's a declaration of their valuing of one another, that with the whole of themselves they are going to value one another in the context of that marriage vow. Well that's what we're doing at a higher level when we say that we worship God. We’re saying that we worship God, when we say that we worship God, we're saying that we value Him more than anyone. Just as a husband is to value his wife more than any other woman and a wife to value her husband more than any other man, so also we value God more than anything else in this world. Tonight, Genneysa sang a song, an arrangement, of “Amazing Grace” that was done by Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio. Now in our bulletin it says Gliglio, but that's a typo! Christ Tomlin and Louie Giglio have both been involved in the Passion Movement which has brought thousands and thousands of young people to concerts where Bible teachers have also preached the Word. John Piper has preached there. And Louie Giglio has written a little sentence, or several paragraphs actually, about worship, but it's so good and so helpful, especially in the context of what we're looking at tonight, that I want to remind it to you again, or remind you of it again. Worship is valuing God. It is treasuring God more than anything. And here's how Louie Giglio puts that in a very provocative way.
“Think of it this way,” he says, “worship is simply about value. The simplest definition I can give is this: worship is our response to what we value the most. That is why worship is something that we all do. We’re all about it on any given day. Worship is about saying this person, this thing, this experience, this whatever is what matters most to me. It's the thing of highest value in my life. That thing might be a relationship, a dream, a position, a status, something you own, a name, a job, some kind of pleasure — whatever name you put on it, that thing is what you have concluded in your heart is worth most to you, and whatever is worth most to you, you guessed it, what you worship. Worship is in essence declaring what we value most. As a result, worship fuels our actions and becomes the driving force of all that we do. And we're not just talking about the religious crowd, the Christian, the church-goer among us. We’re talking about everybody on planet Earth, a multitude of souls proclaiming with every breath what is worthy of their affection, their attention, their allegiance, proclaiming with every step what it is that they worship. Some of us attend the church on the corner professing to worship the living God above all. Others who rarely darken the church doors would say that worship isn't a part of their lives because they’re not religious. But everybody has an altar and everybody has a throne. So how do you know where and what you worship? Its’ easy. You follow the trail of your time, your affection, your energy, your money, and your allegiance, and at the end of that trail you’ll find a throne. And whatever or whoever is on that throne is of what is of highest value to you. In other words, on that throne is what you worship. Sure, not too many of us walk around saying, ‘I worship my stuff,’ or ‘I worship my job’ or ‘I worship this pleasure’ or ‘I worship her’ or ‘I worship my body’ or ‘I worship me,’ but the trail never lies. We may say that we value this thing or that thing more than any other, but the volume of our actions speaks louder than our words.”
And that is why the psalmist is saying to us, in this exhortation, what we as believers are to do is to value God more than anything in this world, to treasure Him more than anything in this life, to declare Him more praiseworthy than anything else. “Praise the LORD” is the exhortation. Worshiping God means valuing God more than anything. And that of course changes everything in the Christian life. If we value God more than anything, it changes every relationship which we sustain on earth. We live, literally, for God's glory. And that is the taproot of the change of the Christian life that is expressed out of the regeneration that Billy talked about tonight. That's what the new birth does, is it moves a person from worshiping herself or himself to worshiping God and everything in life flows from that.
SERVANTS OF THE LIVING GOD
Secondly, I want you to see what this psalm teaches us about what worship is and what it involves. Look at how its put in the first long phrase of verse 1. “Praise, O servants of the LORD, praise the name of the LORD.” Now I want you to look at two things there. It calls us what? Servants. And it tells us to praise not just the Lord but the name of the Lord. Now something about each side of that. It tells us who we are. Who are we? We are the servants of the living God. Now what are servants? Servants are people who are devoted to the master's will. They’re devoted, they’re committed, they’re caught up, they’re focused on the master's will. They live for the master. They live to do the master's bidding and they’re called to do what? “Praise the name of the LORD.” His name stands in for His character, His reputation, who He is, the whole complex of the glorious attributes of His being. And so we are to praise the name of the Lord, but here's the other thing about the name of the Lord. It doesn't just refer to the totality of who God is. How do we know the totality of who God is or at least the totality of what He has shown us in His Word? We know it by His own revelation. We would not know what He is like if He had not revealed Himself to us. So here's a phrase that I've borrowed from Derek Kidner to describe what this psalm is saying to us about what worship is and what it involves. “Worship is the loving homage of the committed to the Revealed.” The loving homage of the committed, we are servants of the Lord, we're committed to Him. We don't just profess to be His disciples, we are committed as His disciples. And that praise, that homage, that loving worship of the committed is to the Revealed, capital R. In other words, we wouldn't know who God is had He not revealed Himself to us. He is a Spirit, after all. How do you get to know a Spirit? The answer is, you don't get to know a Spirit unless a Spirit reveals Himself to you. And God has told us that He reveals Himself to us in His Word. So worship is the loving homage of the committed to the Revealed.
THE CONTEXT OF WORSHIP
Third, this psalm shows us the unseen but very real context of worship. Look at verses 2 to 4. “Blessed be the name of the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.” So God's praise is unending in time, “from this time forth and forevermore, to the rising of the sun to its setting, the name of the LORD is to be praised.” So the praise of the Lord is unending in space. The praise of the Lord is unending in space and time. Think of that. Here's what Derek Kidner says about that. “The worshippers, calling on His name in any one place, are but part of a vast company extending unimaginably in time and space as befits His sovereignty in earth and in heaven.” There is an echo or a parallel in verse 3 of Malachi's vision of worldwide heartfelt worship to which the prophet found a painful contrast in the attitude of his contemporaries. Malachi looked around and he didn't see very many people in his own land who were really worshipping God, but he dreamt of a day when God would be worshiped from this time forth and forevermore and from the rising to the setting of the sun.
And of course one of the beautiful things about the Gospel and the Great Commission and the Day of Pentecost is we are having now more than just a foretaste of that great worldwide and unending worship of the living God, which should encourage us no matter how small our gathering may be. As we gather on 1390 North State Street, there are believers on this day around the world that are worshiping God from the rising to the setting of the sun and we are just a tiny drop in that bucket. And so though you may feel outnumbered in your culture, in the end, there will be a multitude that no one can number from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation and they are going to worship Him unendingly. It's very important for us to remember that. We may be going into a dark time in our culture where we see many who have professed Christ peel away from that profession because finally we are beginning to see the first hints of public aggressive antagonism to the Gospel and to institutions that believe the Word of God because our culture will not countenance certain things that this Word of God says. They are mortally offended and they believe that they are on the moral high ground when certain things in this Word of God are publically read and spoken and they will begin, and you will see it that it's already begun, they will begin to bring to bear pressures on Christian institutions to silence us in these areas. So be it. And sadly, we will see many Christians peel away in those times. No matter how few of us remain faithful to the Word of God, we are just a drop in the bucket of a multitude that no man can number that will sing God's praises forever. Do not feel yourself outnumbered when you are worshiping God, no matter how few of you there are. Do not feel yourself outnumbered. And this psalm reminds us of that beautifully.
THE REASON WHY WE WORSHIP GOD
But let me hasten on to one last point before we close. And you’ll see this in verses 5 to 9. I wish I could dwell on this with you for a few minutes, but in this passage God is declared to be unlike anything. Listen to what the psalmist says, “Who is like the LORD our God?” And he begins, look at the end of verse 5, verse 6, “He's seated on high and He looks far down on the heavens and on the earth.” So he starts off by saying, “There's no one like our God. He has to stoop, He has to stoop down just to see the earth and the heavens above. That's how great and high He is.” So there's the first reason why we ought to praise God. He's bigger than the earth; He's bigger than the universe. He has to stoop down to see the earth and the heavens.
But then, from this glorious picture of God's praise even in the creation, he moves to this, verse 7. “He raises the poor from the dust; He lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes with the princes of His people; He gives the barren woman a home, making her the joyous mother of children.” Now the psalmist goes a very interesting direction here. And where does he go? He goes right back to Hannah's song. This is Hannah's song and it's just plagiarism happening here. The psalmist is just lifting Hannah's words right out of her mouth and asking the whole congregation to join in singing Hannah's song. This God who has to stoop to see the earth and the heavens cares about poor, weak, marginalized, barren people and He delights to exalt them. And the psalmist just stands there staggered and he says, “Could you please just show me something that's like Him? Any of you, show me something that's like Him. There's no one like Him! This God who has to stoop to see the heavens and the earth but cares about a barren woman and a poor man oppressed by princes and exalts them? Who's like Him?”
The last few weeks I've been reading snippets of testimonies to my theology class at the seminary and also to the ministers here at the church just by way of encouragement during our ministers meeting. And one of the testimonies that I shared was Donald Macleod's testimony of how he came to a solid faith in the truthfulness of Scripture and into the basis of the Christian life. And in his testimony he talks about how who Jesus is was brought home to him. And he meditates especially about what he learned about Jesus from Paul and from James and I want to pick up on what he says.
“When I think of the apostle James, it's very special because James was our Lord's half brother. They grew up in the same home. They had outwardly the same father and mother. They had eaten at the same table. I suppose that they had even slept in the same bed. And James was a Jew of Jews. He was known in Jerusalem as James the Righteous and even those Jews who loathed the Christians could find no fault in him. And the incredible thing is that although he slept in the same house as Jesus he begins his letter with the astonishing words, ‘James, a slave of God and of Jesus.’ That is surely a remarkable testimony. A member of the same family and yet he calls Him his Lord, a Jew and yet he calls his brother Jehovah.
Now two things constantly weigh with me as I reflect upon Jesus Christ and the first is this. I do not believe that anyone could have created Christ. I am told by many scholars today that Jesus is the creation of the gospel writers. I find this utterly incredible. The man who criticizes the apostles, who criticizes His own culture, who moves so freely among women, who teaches the most splendid parables, who preached the Sermon on the Mount, who prayed the prayer of John 17, which one of them created Him? Which one of the gospel writers had the literally genius to create Him? They were unlearned men, they were unlettered men. Which one of them created Jesus?
And then there's this that weighs with me. He is unsurpassable. Anselm once said that, ‘God is that than which a greater cannot be conceived.’ To me, Jesus Christ is exactly that, a greater cannot be conceived. He is great in the glory of His person as the God-Man, that marvelous combination of transcendence and elevation on the one hand and compassion and sympathy on the other. He is great in His teaching, great in His work, great in His promises. Where would I improve Him? Where would I alter Him? Where is His equal? Where is His superior? If I couldn't worship Jesus Christ, I would worship the man who created Him.
I remember constantly the great words of William Guthrie of Fenwick who said, ‘When faith looks at Christ is says, ‘Less would not satisfy and more is not desired.’’ For me, the search for truth ends with Christ. Less would not satisfy me; more is not desired. If this light went out, all the lights would go out.”
In other words, what Donald Macleod is saying about Jesus is, there's no one like Him. There's no one like Him. I've never met the like of Him. And that, my friends, fuels worship. When you think of God like that, when you think of Jesus like that, it fuels worship. You want to tell the world about Him and you want to tell Him about Him.
Our Lord and our God, we thank You for this psalm, and we pray, O God, that by the work of Your Spirit in us we would come to worship less and less the things of this passing age and less and less the vain idols of our hearts and more and more You, the One who is incomparable, the One about whom our souls can rightly say, ‘There is no one like Him.’ But, O God, if we've come here tonight and the wonder of Your uniqueness has worn off on us, we pray, again, by Your Holy Spirit, by Your work of grace in us that we would once more be flabbergasted by how innately and unrepeatably and incomparably great and loving You are and that it would move us to worship again. We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
Would you please stand for the benediction?
Peace be to the brethren and love with faith through Jesus Christ our Lord until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.