The Who, Why and How of worship from Psalm 96

Who is worship all about? There might have been a point in history when this question could have been answered quickly and easily.  Every person would have known the answer, but in recent history, the answer to this question seems to be muddied.  Worship has been understood by some as an evangelistic tool, something we use to bring people into the church, something that is comfortable for them.  The problem with this view is that worship then makes the unconverted its object.  Sure the songs may be sung to Jesus, but the object of whom it is for and how it is designed is the unconverted.

Then there are other more traditional churches that boast about not changing their worship style based upon the whims of culture, but they too may be in error.  These churches frequently have mistaken who the object of worship is as well.  The old familiar hymns are sung, the liturgy recited and people come and experience a sense of comfort and complacency.  These churches have made a similar error to the previous.  Instead of making the unconverted the object of worship, the converted or the churchgoer is who worship is all about.  Their preferences, their desires, their comfort is who it is about.  Nothing that would ever disrupt the flow of the past is allowed to enter.

 

But both of these are in error, for the people inside the church and those outside the church are not who worship is all about.  Our psalm this morning, like many psalms gives us a wonderful teaching and example of whom worship is all about, why we are to worship this one and how we are to worship.  There are many who state the bible provides no prescriptions for worship, no directions, but this is false.  These people have obviously never read the Psalms.  There are many commands about worship in the Psalter.

 

Who is worship all about?

So who is worship all about?  Succinctly stated, worship is all about, and directed towards Yahweh.  It has nothing to do with people and their preferences.  It has nothing to do with making people comfortable; it has nothing to do with trying to get people through a door.  But is has everything to do with Yahweh, the Lord.  The Lord is the name given to God in the Old Testament.  It is the name that God chose to reveal to Moses at the burning bush (Ex. 3:14).  This God who is the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (Ex 3:6), this God who rescued the Israelites from their slavery and brought them out of Egypt is YHWH, the Lord.  11 times the psalmist directly focuses on the Lord in this psalm, 15 more times he indirectly refers to him, he and his to make 26 references in 111 Hebrew words.  That is a lot of reference to God.  His is undoubtedly the focus, subject and object of worship.  Worship is all about God and no one else.  There is no room for anyone else in the equation.  Let’s try to remember this truth.

 

How are we to worship?

After establishing who worship is all about, the psalm moves on to some mechanics of worship.  How are we to worship God?  What things are we to do? There are 11 specific things mentioned.  10 are commands: Sing, Praise, Proclaim, Declare, Ascribe, Bring, Come, Worship, Tremble, and Say; 1 is a response: Fear.

 

Did you notice how many of those commands are related to our mouth and our words?  Singing, praising, proclaiming, declaring, saying are all oral actions.  We are to worship God with our mouths, with the things we say.  We are to sing songs to God.  Specifically the psalmist calls us to sing a new song.  What exactly does that mean?  Are we never to sing old songs?  Are hymns, and chants relics of a bygone era?  Are the organs and the pianos of the world to be clothed in dust while the guitars and drums take center stage?  I think not.  New songs has nothing to do with instrumentation, rather a new song is a “verbal response of God’s people to God’s revelation as they experience a new act of his salvation” (NIDOTTE).  In this context new doesn’t mean brand new, it means fresh, or adapted to the occasion.  The old songs aren’t being replaced, but being adapted and added to so that they articulate the continued experience of God’s salvation.  A new verse is added, an old verse is rephrased.

 

I submit this meaning to you because if it means we are to just have new songs and trash the old ones, then how are we to fulfill the other Old Testament injunctions about worshipping God that command us to:

Psa. 9:1 I will praise you, O Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonders.

Psa. 73:28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.

Psa. 105:2 Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of all his wonderful acts.

 

Our songs, hymns and spiritual songs are to be wholly God centered and about his work to save and sanctify his people.  It is about what God has done, is doing and will continue to do in our lives as individuals and as his chosen people.  Every one of the commands of God is directed to the covenant community, the plural people of God who are summoned to exalt his name.

 

But we are not just to sing songs, we are also to praise God’s name.  Praising or blessing is speaking well about God and the good in him.  We are to talk about his good nature with our mouths when we gather together as a body and that ties in with the next command to proclaim his salvation daily.  When we aren’t gathered, we are required to bring the good news of his salvation to the world we live in. 2Kings 7:9 tells us a wonderful story that illustrates what it means to proclaim God’s salvation daily.  In this passage, some lepers enter into the camp of the Arameans who were besieging Samaria.  They decide to try their lot with the enemy instead of waiting to be captured, but when they enter into the enemy camp, they find it deserted; God had caused a great panic.  These guys enjoy the salvation of God, they eat even though famine had plagued the land, they get rich carrying off silver and gold, but Then they said to each other, “We’re not doing right. This is a day of good news and we are keeping it to ourselves. If we wait until daylight, punishment will overtake us. Let’s go at once and report this to the royal palace.

 

Don’t we have wonderful news of the salvation of humanity at the death and resurrection of Christ? Acts 4:12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

We are commanded as an act of worship to share this news daily.  Isaiah tells us,

Is. 52:7 How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Furthermore, worship is recounting/declaring/reciting his glory among the nations.  And what is God’s glory?  When Moses asks to see God’s glory in Exodus 33, what does God say, “you cannot see my face” (v.20a).  God’s glory has something to do with his presence.  Whenever the tabernacle was enshrouded in the cloud, the people said, the glory of the Lord. Ex. 40:34 Then the cloud covered the Tent of Meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.  The same was true of the cloud descending on mount Sinai (Exo. 24:16-17).

 

The glory of the Lord is his manifest presence among people.  In who is this most fully realized?  In Christ, of course.  He is God with us, the glory of God, his presence in humanity and when he left, he sent the Holy Spirit who continues to be the very presence of God among people.  We must declare this story as part of our worship and ensure that the rest of the world hears it.  We must proclaim the reign of God across the cosmos.  There is only one God and one king, one Lord, the ruler of everything.  Worship says this out loud.

 

But those are all verbal commands of worship: Sing songs of his past and present and future salvation, speak well of his name and character, tell of his salvation every day, declare his presence among humanity, speak of his enduring reign as king.  Then there are the other five prescriptions for what worship is when properly directed to God.  It doesn’t come empty handed, but comes with an offering, an expression of gratitude and thanksgiving for the wonders just proclaimed.  It enters boldly into the presence of God.  Worship isn’t done in a room without any hint of God’s presence, it is done in the very courtyards of the temple where verse 9 is translated Worship! The Lord in the splendor of his holiness but that word worship is literally a command to bow down, fall upon your knees because he is so beautiful and pure.  Are we willing to fall down?  Or do we think that is archaic and unneeded?

 

The Zambians routinely had to enter into the presence of the local kings on their hands and knees, displaying their submission and obedience and recognition of the king’s authority.  When was the last time our worship even brought a hint of that splendor and holiness in the posture of our bodies?  Worship bows and submits, but is also fears and trembles.  It shakes at his wonder, but it also quakes at his awesome power.  There is a deep reverence, for as Jonathan Edwards once wrote, the only thing between you and hell is the hand of God holding you.  Should there not be a certain amount of fear in this revelation?  How about wonder and quaking?

 

This is how we are to worship: with our mouth in various ways speaking of God and his salvation with our bodies displaying submission, with our hands and feet bringing offerings, with our emotions trembling before the great maker of heaven and earth.

 

Why are we to worship?

This brings us to the final section of today’s sermon.  Who do we worship? God.  How do we worship?  With words and bodies in submission and declaration.  So why do we worship?  Again the psalmist provides a number of reasons.  We worship because God is alive.  His name means I am and Jesus tells us Luke 20:38 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. We worship because he is present; his glory is here.  His glory is given as a reason for worshipping twice.  His presence among us is the very impetus and reason we should worship.

 

We worship because God is great.  He is large, larger than anything we can imagine.  Saying God is large is a way of saying he is unfathomable and beyond comprehension.  Isaiah records,  Is. 55:9As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. This is part of his greatness.  And so this is why we worship God, there is none other like him.

 

We worship because he is worthy, most worthy to be precise.  He is intensely worthy, of inestimable worth, surpassing even the $135million dollars the paid for the Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Gustav Klimt in 2006. (The most expensive piece of artwork sold.) He is worth more than the combined wealth of the entire world, which we can’t even calculate. God is of inestimable worth.  He is more valuable than anything in our life.  That is why Jesus tells parables about finding his kingdom and being willing to give everything for a pearl of great price, or a treasure in a field.  If just being a part of his reign will cause a person to give everything for it, imagine how much more magnificent it is to actually worship God.  He is even greater than his kingdom.  This is why we worship.

 

We worship because of his strength, his majesty, his splendor, and his holiness.  Everything we have covered so far could be summed up as we worship because God’s character is awesome.  But we also worship because of what he has done.  We worship because he saves us daily.  He saves us from ourselves.  He saves us from others.  He saves us from our sin.  He saves us from the wily plans of the evil one.  He saves us because we are small, powerless creatures unable to rescue ourselves from the very situations we create and/or find ourselves in.  And so we worship, telling others about what he has done for us, just as Jesus told a healed demoniac Luke 8:39 “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. We worship because all of us have been exorcised from the demon of selfishness and pride.  And we proclaim thanks to God by telling it all over the city.

 

We worship because of the marvelous deeds God has done.  He saved Noah and his family from the flood.  He saved Abraham from childlessness.  He saved Israel from the plans of Pharaoh.  He saved the tribes from countless enemies through the hands of the judges.  All of these were full of miraculous, marvelous deeds:  Making an old woman pregnant, the 10 plagues, salvation with jars and torches and countless other stories of the marvelous – a sun standing still, even backing up at one point, the earth swallowing rebellious people, staffs that bud, manna that never rots in the ark, even water pouring out of rocks.  These are marvelous deeds and they didn’t stop in the Old Testament, they continued on with miraculous healings by Jesus and his apostles, with Paul being bitten by a deadly snake and not dying or even suffering, even the empowering of the apostles to speak boldly, though they were ordinary unschooled men, or allowing their shadows to fall on the sick, or handkerchiefs they touched to bring healing.

 

And if that isn’t reason enough to worship, then why not worship because God made the heavens and the earth.  He is the creator of all that is seen and unseen. Isaiah reminds us to Is. 40:26 Lift your eyes and look to the heavens: Who created all these? He who brings out the starry host one by one, and calls them each by name. Because of his great power and mighty strength, not one of them is missing.

Even the revelation shows us a picture of people worshipping for no other reason than God is the creator and sustainer of all life.  Rev. 4:11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.”

 

It is because he created everything that he reigns.  He made it and so he controls it and determines how it is to exist.  And so we worship because he not only establishes the creation but he sustains is and secures it so that not even Matt 10:29-30 Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. 30 And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Talk about firmly establishing something, even to the smallest details like birds and hairs.  If this is how God governs, then we best rejoice as the catechism reminds us,

(HC 1) That I am not my own, but belong—
body and soul, in life and in death
to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from the tyranny of the devil. He also watches over me in such a way that not a hair can fall from my head without the will of my Father in heaven: in fact, all things must work together for my salvation. Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.

And this brings us to our final reason for why we must worship the Lord.  He saves us, performs marvelous deed, created everything, reigns over it and secures its future, but he also judges the world and its people with equity, and in righteousness and truth (v. 10, 13).  God judges.  He alone determines what is good and bad and it is based upon his character, that character which we bless and proclaim.  He determines who lives and dies, who is forgiven and who is condemned.  He ensures that sin and vileness are punished while he promises life for all who are found in Christ Jesus his Son as the apostle John so eloquently wrote, John 17:3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Family of Christ, today we have covered a lot of ground.  Why have found out who the object of worship is – the Lord.  We have seen that true worship consists of proclaiming back to God and to others inside and outside the church all those things he has done, is doing and will continue to do.  Furthermore worship fears and reveres the lord, it brings offerings and enters the very presence of the Almighty, and we do all of these because God’s character demands it, there is no one like him, and his actions require our thanks.  Let us worship the Lord everyday as the psalmist commands.  Amen and Amen.

 

 

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About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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