Sing to the Lord a New Song

Sermon by Ligon Duncan on September 20, 2020

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 96. We looked at Psalm 95 last Lord’s Day. We look at this psalm which is another call to worship and is very clearly a missionary psalm, today.

And as we look at the passage, I want you to see four parts to the psalm. If you look at verses 1 to 3, we find out “who” it is that is being called to worship. And there’s a little bit of a surprise in the answer to that question – “Who is called to worship?” – in verses 1 to 3. Then in verses 4 to 6, we see “why” they are called to worship. In verses 7 to 9, “how” they are called to worship the Lord. And in verses 10 to 13, “whom” they are called to worship. So with that in mind, let’s read the Word of the Lord together. And before we read it, let’s pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Our heavenly Father, we bow before You today and we ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things from Your Word. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Your Word is truth. Sanctify us with that truth. We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

This is the Word of God. Hear it, in Psalm 96:

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works 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 worthless 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 peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth!

Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never 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 that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

Life does not stop for our worship, and so we need a reason for worship that does not stop for life. Life does not stop so that we can worship, and so we need a motivation, an aspiration in our worship, that transcends all the circumstances of life – happy circumstances, sad circumstances; sunshine and shadow; gratitude and grief. This morning, I got to sit a few feet away from where a mother was having her child baptized. I baptized the mother twenty-something years ago right there. You don’t think that makes me happy! It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing to get to experience. And in this same place tomorrow, we’ll have the funeral service of a son of this church. You don’t think that breaks my heart? And yet here we are this morning, and we’re worshiping. How do you do that?

A lot of us are discouraged in the middle of this pandemic. There’s turmoil in our country, in our culture, and my heavens, an election is coming! And it’s discouraging; it’s depressing. And there are two Mississippians this morning in Ras Al Khaimah, United Arab Emirates, right off of the gulf, preaching the Gospel in a building built by a Muslim sheikh. And The Washington Post and The New York Times is not talking about that. So you’re discouraged about some things, and God is still up to something. You have to have a way to worship that transcends the hard things in life and the good things in life. And this psalm supplies that for us as believers. It points us to something that is better and greater than anything in this world and that nothing in this world can rob from us. And, it points us to an aspiration that all of us should have, all of us – not just at Missions Conference time – but an aspiration that all of us should have that never ever turns off. No matter what’s happening in our life, this aspiration is still there.

And so I want to look at this psalm with you very briefly this morning. This song calls not just on those who are already believers, but it calls on all the earth to worship the one, true God. Now you can already tell, for that to happen, the Gospel has to be shared. People have to be converted. The Holy Spirit has to change lives. So if all the earth is going to worship God, you’re going to have to send some missionaries out, the Gospel is going to have to be proclaimed, the Bible is going to have to be preached, the Holy Spirit is going to have to regenerate, the Church is going to have to be gathered, the peoples are going to have to become the people. And so we see here in this psalm, in this call to all the people of the earth to worship the one, true God with joy, a missionary aspiration and impulse. The only way this can happen is by the worldwide spread of the good news of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Who It Is That Is Being Called to Worship

And let me just walk you through the “who,” the “why,” the “how,” and the “whom” of this psalm. First of all, notice very explicitly in the first three verses, but didn’t you hear the echoes all the way through the rest of the psalm, of who it is that is being called to worship the one, true God – “Sing to the Lord a new song.” This psalm is written, it’s composed first by David when the ark of the covenant and the tabernacle are set up in Jerusalem. You know, the ark has been down in the Judean wilderness, David has conquered Jebus, and now he’s turned it into Jerusalem. His throne is in Jerusalem and so now the ark is being brought up to Jerusalem and this is when he’s dancing before the Lord as the ark is brought up into Jerusalem. And 1 Chronicles 16 records this and parts of a couple of other psalms that are sung when the ark is brought into Jerusalem.

And yet, this psalm is not just about the people of God in Jerusalem worshiping the Lord and singing to the Lord a new song over this wonderful thing – the bringing of the ark into Jerusalem. It’s, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Even in 1 Chronicles 16, when they’re singing this psalm as they’re going into Jerusalem, the prayer is, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.” Look at verse 3. “Declare his glory among the nations” – plural. Again, verse 3, “Declare his marvelous works among all the peoples” – plural. So all the earth, all the nations, all the peoples are called to worship. God is calling on all the peoples of the earth to sing for joy to worship Him. Every time you hear, “Sing to the Lord all the earth,” remember that prayer, that call to worship, can only be answered by the conversion of men and women and boys and girls from every tribe, tongue, people and nation. We have got to care about that.

One of the ways that we worship God is that we want and work for others to worship God. We want the nations to worship the one, true God and we will work for the nations to come to worship the one, true God. That’s one of the ways that you glorify God and enjoy Him forever. You want everyone to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We are, by God’s grace, the Lord’s redeemed. And as the Lord’s redeemed people, we cannot be indifferent about the Lord’s redemption of the peoples. We are an open society. We are not an exclusive country club. We want everybody to be a part of this people! Every tribe, tongue, people and nation to be numbered among the people of God. So here, “who” is it that’s called on to worship God? The nations. The peoples. The whole earth. We want everybody to worship the one, true God.

Why The People Are Called to Worship

“Why?” There are a lot of good answers to that question. Not all of those answers are given in verses 4 to 6, but some really important answers are given. The first is this. God is great. When I was a little boy, one of the first prayers that my parents taught me to pray over the meal went this way. “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for this food.” That is exactly what is being acknowledged here. God is great and He is good and therefore He is to be greatly praised and He is to be greatly reverenced above all gods.

And here’s the next reason. That little “above all gods” leads to the second thought as to why we ought to worship God. “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” Now this is the most unpolitically correct verse in the Bible. This, after announcing that we want everyone in the world to worship God, here’s the next announcement – “Everything else you worship is false! Everything! Absolutely everything! Everything else other than the worship of this God is idolatry!” That’s the great problem in the world – not atheism, but idolatry. We are all, every single one of us, worshiping every second. The problem is, there are a lot of us worshiping something other than the one, true God. And this psalm says, “We were made to worship one thing, one person only – the one, true and living God – and everything else is false.”

Furthermore, “the Lord made the heavens.” He created everything. Therefore, He – that’s the third reason why we’re to worship Him – He made everything. His creation of everything means that we ought to worship Him. And then “Splendor and majesty are before Him; strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.” His character, what He’s like – God is great. God is good. He’s beautiful. There’s nothing greater, nothing better, than God in this world. Worship Him.

How The People Are Called to Worship

“How?” How are the peoples to worship Him? Look at verses 7 to 9. Notice three “ascribes.” “Ascribe to the Lord.” “Ascribe to the Lord.” “Ascribe to the Lord.” By the way, that parallels what? In verses 1 and 2 – “Sing to the Lord.” “Sing to the Lord.” “Sing to the Lord.” Now, “Ascribe to the Lord.” “Ascribe to the Lord.” “Ascribe to the Lord.” In other words, acknowledge who God is. Acknowledge that He’s great. Acknowledge that He’s the only true God. Acknowledge that He created the world. Acknowledge that He’s good, that He’s beautiful. “Ascribe to the Lord” – oh, and by the way, there’s another – “families of the peoples.” So we’re still back to that theme, “all the earth, all the peoples, all the nations.” “Ascribe to the Lord, families of the peoples.” Not just families from Abraham, but families of the peoples. “Ascribe glory and strength. Give to Him the glory due His name.”

Then what? “Bring an offering.” Interestingly, a meal offering. It’s not an animal sacrifice of atonement that they’re to bring into the courts, but a meal offering. Very interesting. You would think that there would be a sacrifice of atonement that would be required for the peoples to come into the courts. There will be, but they will not bring it. We’ll get to that in the next stanza. “Worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” So they are to – what did David just read about how we can’t say that we love God and we hate our brother? Why? Because we have to keep His commandments. And He said, “Love your neighbor. Love your brother.” So one way they are to worship Him is in consistency with His commands. Holiness. They’re to “tremble before Him” – again, there’s the phrase, “all the earth.” And they are to “say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’” They are to acknowledge the reign of God.

So how are they to worship and glorify God? They are to acknowledge who He is, they are to acknowledge His greatness, they are to acknowledge that He alone is God; they are to offer this meal sacrifice, they are to come into His courts, they are to bow down, they are to come not as hypocrites but in consistency with His commands. They are to come in awe.

Whom The People Are Called to Worship

And when they come, “whom” is to be worshiped? And the answer is, “Him.” Look at the language. “Let the heavens be glad; let the earth rejoice. Let all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for He comes. He comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples in faithfulness.” Now, this psalm is often sung on Palm Sundays because, you remember, when Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, everybody’s saying – what? “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” That’s that little part of this psalm. By the way, it gets repeated in Psalm 98. We’re going to sing it at the end of the service in Isaac Watts’ version of Psalm 98 where that language of “He comes” is beautifully articulated in slightly different words – “Joy to the world! The Lord is come! Let earth receive her King!”

But interestingly, as that song is sung to Jesus as He’s coming into Jerusalem, He is coming into Jerusalem not to set up His throne but to die. I think I told you last week that both in Psalm 95 and Psalm 96 the phrase, “the Lord reigns from the cross,” is found in the old Latin version. So the reign of the Lord is actually going to be established in the death of Christ. Or, if I could change the scene slightly, you all remember John 3:16 but do you remember John 3:17? You all remember, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes on Him will not perish, but will have everlasting life.” But do you remember John 3:17 because John 3:17 is all about Psalm 96 – “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved.” Is that not glorious? You see, if the King is coming into the world to judge and I’m happy about it, it must mean that all the judgment-worthy things in me have been dealt with in some other way, otherwise I’m scared to death that the King is coming into the world to judge. That is the last thing that I’m going to be happy about. But if the King has come into the world to die for me, a judgment-worthy sinner, not to condemn me but to save me from my sins, then I can say, “Joy to the world! The Lord is come!”

Now every believer needs to understand that again, and every believer needs to want that for every tribe, tongue, people and nation, no matter what’s happening in our lives – no matter whether the bottom has fallen out, no matter if we’re so happy we could burst. Because there’s nothing greater in this world than our God, and there is no greater goodness that could be shown than that our Lord has laid down His life for us who deserve to die. Joy to the world. The Lord is come.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for this missionary psalm. When we sing, “Let earth receive her King,” maybe at Christmas time, maybe at other times when we’re singing about the Advent, the coming of the Lord, let us never ever forget that You, the psalmist, David, you all want us to want all the earth, all the peoples, all the nations, all the families of the peoples to worship God. The only way they will do that is if they understand the Gospel. And the only way that they will do that is if we send the preachers of God’s Word to the ends of the earth with the message of the hope of salvation in Jesus. And O Lord, may all of us want and work for that and so worship You all the days of our lives, in cloud and in sunshine. We ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.

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