Our text this morning is Psalm 100 and our subject is worship. By “worship”, I don’t mean the broad “all things to the glory of God” kind of worship, but the kind described in our text, the kind that happens in churches across the world every Sunday. Understanding worship is both simple and complicated. Think of it like a set of Russian nesting dolls. The largest doll encompasses the testimony of all of creation that has declared the glory of God since the moment it was spoken into being; one nesting doll smaller sits the entirety of Holy Scripture: the law and prophets, history and poetry, apostolic doctrine and apocalyptic prophecy. As you move nearer to the center, though, more and more complexity is shed until, at last, you reach the glorious, irreducible, why of true worship. And it’s this big. It’s something you could write on a postage stamp; something you could say as the surgeon puts the anesthesia mask over your face; something to tell your infant before she sleeps. Here it is, are you ready?
The Lord is good
His steadfast love endures forever.
Our text this morning is not quite that central monolith of worship. It’s one level removed. One nesting doll larger. Psalm 100 contains that primitive why within it, then elaborates. Psalm 100 adds instructions and a script. It has the why, but it also has the who, how, where and what. Psalm 100 is a little bit like John 3:16. It’s simple, it’s concise, it’s complete. What John 3:16 is to the gospel, Psalm 100 is to worship. Everything you need to know about worship is right here. Let’s hear it.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth
Serve the Lord with gladness
Come into his presence with singing.
Know that the Lord, he is God
It is he who made us, and we are his
We are his people and the sheep of his pasture
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
And his courts with praise
Give thanks to him
Bless his name
For the Lord is good
His steadfast love endures forever
And his faithfulness to all generations.
From my earliest childhood I have loved worship. I suspect that this is true of many here, but it is certainly true of me that I learned to sing to God before I learned to pray to him; that I learned to sing about God before I knew how to think about him; and that I learned how to sing with other Christians before I learned how to speak with them. When I was very small, I attended a charismatic church full of tambourines and banners. Gary Ruhl led worship there and so did my dad. Here are some of the songs we sang: Arise and Sing Ye Children of Zion, We Bring the Sacrifice of Praise, The Battle Belongs to The Lord, All Heaven Declares. Those songs and my experience of seeing worship modeled there has had a lasting impact on me. I pray that there are seven and eight year olds here who will say the same about our songs and our worship one day.
As a young teenager at this church, worship became something that I began to own myself. I no longer only watched worship, I became a worshiper. Our denomination’s summer conferences were spiritual highpoints where my friends and I would worship quite unselfconsciously. If back home our hands hovered around half-staff, at the conference they’d be at full-staff; if back home the worship would last thirty minutes, at the conference it would last sixty or ninety minutes; if at home the most you’d get from us was a little sway, at the conference our feet would regularly find themselves several inches off the ground. I pray there are teenagers here who are maturing from mere spectating during worship to participating in it.
For the last ten years or so, I have had the great privilege of being one of your worship leaders. I say it has been a privilege. What do I mean by that? Well, for one thing you let me lead you. Leading worship is a little bit like being a golden retriever on a leash: you run out in front real confident, like you own the world, and then look behind you, hoping that people are following. And you always have. So thanks. Leading worship also gives me an excuse to think and read and talk alot about worship. It’s a prod to meditate and pray and worship more than I probably would otherwise. Leading anything in church, my dad used to say, applies a “holy pressure” to your life. There’s work, but the gains far outweigh the cost. But here’s what the greatest privilege is: I get to hear you sing. I get to see you worship. You have no idea the blessing it is for me to periodically stop singing myself just so I can hear the wave of worship coming from you crash against me; to see a hundred hands raised; to see Ron Jones walk over to the prophecy mic and start jawing in the elder’s ear and know just by his walk that it’s going to be good; to see Bibles open and children who can hardly stand on their own two feet singing about “raising their Ebenzezer.” I hate to break it to you, but I’ve got the best seat in the house.
I have three main points: Psalm 100 gives us (1) the commands for our worship (2) the cause of our worship and (3) the culmination of our worship
Point one: The Commands of Worship - make a joyful noise, serve the Lord with gladness, come into his presence with singing, know that the Lord, he is God, enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise, give thanks to him, bless his name.
First, we should note that there are commands. These aren’t suggestions. A lot of thought goes into what happens in church: What will help people worship better? Learn better? What can the church afford? What makes sense, given our time and place? But there is one question that precedes all of these and trumps all of these and that is this: what does the Bible command?
The reason we have loud cymbals in worship is not because we’re trying to keep up with the times, it’s because God’s word tells us to in Psalm 150. The reason we have this odd microphone down here is not because we are trying to be novel, it is because we are trying to be faithful to 1 Cor. 14. If you ever hear anyone say something along the lines of “hey, I have a new idea for church”, I want you to narrow your eyes and very slowly reach for your Bible.
So again: there are commands for our worship.
Next before we consider what the commands of worship are, we should note to whom the command to worship is given. The command to worship is made to all the earth.
“Make a joyful noise to the Lord all the earth”
The invitation to worship is made, not just to the musical, but to all Christians. It's easy to think that worship is for the musical or the emotionally uninhibited. People who are both become worship leaders. Don't think that way. This passage is addressed just as much to the non-musical, unemotional, and very much inhibited Christian as it is to the musical types. The image of the church as a body is not applicable here. There isn’t one part of the church that really owns the whole worship thing and another part that’s really into charitable work or really into theology.
It is true that there are better worshipers and worse worshipers in church. But the quality of worship is determined by your heart, your mind, your mouth, your hands, your feet. It is not determined by how musical or how naturally demonstrative you are. It is liturgical obedience performed in love. You don’t have to love music, just God.
We are each God’s instrument and He is tuning us to sing his praise. Now here’s the thing about string instruments. I know they look pretty sturdy just sitting there, but they are actually in a constant state of near explosion. Slack strings make no music. Thick wood makes no music. The same is true of us: God often produces the sweetest tunes from his children when they are under the greatest stress. That is certainly true circumstantially - the prayers of a broken heart are precious to God. But it is true, too, in the very manner of our worship. Just as giving sacrificially blesses the Lord, so does worshiping sacrificially. Sacrifice a little dignity, lay aside your style preferences, stretch yourself to worship not as you would prefer but as God has commanded. We’ll return to that idea again soon.
The invitation to worship is made, not just to Christians, but to all mankind. May we be bold and sweeping in our proclamations of the truth. Bold and sweeping in our invitations to worship. We serve no provincial God; he’s not the regional deity of the Bible Belt; he’s no subcultural's outdated preoccupation or justification for oppression. God in his mercy calls all men and women to come into his presence with singing.
Return to the image of the instrument: God plays upon human society and politics and culture as on a violin. He is playing Beijing just as much as he is playing Apex. The tune is his. The song is his. The rise and fall of nations and people are but musical phrases in his symphony.
To those here who are not Christians, I am grateful that you are here. It may be that you think of a Christian as someone who claims to have a relationship with God and that a non-Christian, like yourself, as someone who does not. Well, let me tell you: being in relationship with God is not something you opt out of. You belong to him; you, too, are an instrument in his hand. Your strings are being tightened, too; your pegs are being turned, too; and he is rosening up his bow to lay upon you. It is as certain as the rising of tomorrow’s sun: a song will come forth from you. The question is, what song? Will it be the song of thanksgiving and joy in heaven, or the song of God’s righteous punishment in hell? He calls all men to repentance and faith. He desires the death of no man. We are here speaking of singing. Know this: 10,000 angels see you right now and will burst into song upon your turning to Christ in faith.
The invitation to worship is made not just to mankind, but to all creation. The word “earth” is used in the Psalms to mean both the people of the earth and also, simply, creation. This is not a strange concept. We know that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19). Scripture is full of such images. One of my favorite passages in Paradise Lost captures this mysterious synthesis of heavenly, angelic, worship and the created order. Milton, here, is trying to describe a particular dance that the angels in heaven perform in worship and what he basically says is that angels dance the way planets orbit. Even more, the planetary orbits in the sky came second; it was the dance that was first. I love that. Listen:
That day, as other solemn days, they spent
In song and dance about the sacred Hill,
Mystical dance, which yonder starry sphere
Of planets and of fixed in all her wheels
Resembles nearest, mazes intricate
Eccentric, intervolved, yet regular
Then most, when most irregular they seem,
And in their motions harmonie divine
So smooths her charming tones, that God’s own ear
In other words, when you look at the sky at night, you aren’t seeing astronomy, you’re seeing worship. It’s your eye against the keyhole catching little glimpses of creation’s ballet before the throne of God.
That was a long wind-up. Now let’s finally hear the commands.
“Make a joyful noise...Serve the Lord...Come into his presence with singing...Enter his gates...with praise”
Hear those words of human activity: come, make, serve, enter, sing, praise. There is effort involved. There are verbs here. Worship is a “doing” kind of thing. It’s a worship service not a worship performance or program.
If the priests of old were tasked with sharpening knives for the sacrifice, mixing perfume for the anointing oil, and baking bread for the alter, we should be no more embarrassed by the ordinary tasks of our church life: the vacuuming, and flower pot straightening, the early morning arrival of the musicians, heating up the water for the baptismal, brewing the coffee.
What about at our homes before church? Get plenty of sleep on Saturday. Turn off the technology on Sunday morning. Infuse those morning hours with a sense of expectation and sanctity. Arrive on time, or early. Your four year old should feel a difference in the air. It’s church day, the Lord’s day. The best day.
What about during the week? The quality of our Sunday morning worship should be one motivation for holy living during the week. We should think: “I will not sin during the week because I do not wish my worship to be diminished on Sunday.” If our prayers are hindered by not living with our wives in an understanding way, how much more is our worship hindered by living in rebellion or apathy toward God? Coming into the Sunday service with a nagging conscience doesn’t just inhibit your own worship; your drooping hands and weak knees casts a pall on the worship of your brothers and sisters. Likewise, coming into the courts of the Lord with a pure heart and a clean conscience, with gladness in your face, stirs us all up to worship. Imagine a church choir that rehearses during the week. The entire church body should be rehearsing during the week, not their voices for musical excellence, but their hearts for spiritual excellence. Those with gifts of wisdom, knowledge, or prophecy should be hard at work during the week, seeking to know if God would speak through them to his people.
The working part of worship also means that we engage self-consciously in training worshipers. When young men lead worship, or when the stage is full of twenty year olds, we’re not just throwing the kids a bone. It’s not amature hour. It is a function of the church’s apprenticeship of worshipers. In his classic 1949 book on boxing, AJ Liebling writes this:
Full employment and a late school-leaving age militates against the development of first-rate professional boxers. They militate also against the development of first-rate acrobats, fiddlers, chefs, and drummers. Certain vocations, to acquire excellence, must begin young.
To that list I would add worship. To be a first-rate worshiper, it’s good to start young. “Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have established strength because of your foes, to still the enemy and the avenger.” When you see a toddler during worship being held by his dad and the dad has his spare arm raised in worship and the toddler copies his dad by raising his hand, too, don’t think “awww, that’s sweet” think, “oh man, the gates of hell are gonna get a rattle or two from that one.”
“Make a joyful noise...Serve the Lord with gladness...Enter his gates with thanksgiving...Know that the Lord is God”
We don’t just take our emotions as we find them, we train our hearts, we fight to have proper emotions. And what is the dominant key in which worship is done? It is done in joy and gladness and thanksgiving.
Let’s not skip over the obvious here: Christians should be a happy people. We have a thousand reasons to be deeply joyful at home, at work, at play, when sick, when poor, when persecuted. How could we not express that joy most enthusiastically when in church, in the courts of the Lord? Now don’t misunderstand me, Christian joy is not silly, it’s not immature, or foolish, or unserious, nor is the Christian indifferent to or ignorant of the profound misery that afflicts the children of man.
To the melodramatic poetic types here this morning, I know what you’re thinking: “what about lament and sorrow, the rending of garments, the entire book of Lamentations?” To which I respond by quoting the Princess Bride, “yes yes, you’re very smart. Shut up.”
The mature Christian’s disposition should be one of profound nobility and dignity beneath which simmers a spring of uncontainable merriment at the sheer wonder of God’s grace, creation’s beauty, and the astounding privilege of living life as a courtier of the King. In the Christian, there is gaiety and gravity, together. Even in the house of mourning let a laugh play at the corners of your mouth. It is one way we prove the grave defeated and death stingless.
In his commentary on this psalm, Augustine tries to wrap his mind around the raw unpolished joy implicit in the command to “make a joyful noise.” To do so, he hovers over joyful “noise.” Not a joyful sentence or thought or song. Just a noise. The best he can do is compare it to the songs the peasants sing at harvest time.
Among the songs which the reapers utter in words, they put in certain cries without words in the exultation of a rejoicing mind.
In other words, they whoop. Does worldliness, fear-of-man, pride, or misunderstood propriety stifle the exultation of your rejoicing mind here in church? We should not be more holy than God by being overly censorious of the occasional “amen” or “hallelujah” or even just “whoo” that happens in church. In fact, I think I’d be a little suspicious of a church that could go more than an hour or two without someone letting out a little shout. You can even practice now if you want. Let me give you some help: the God of all creation set his mind on you before the foundation of the world to draw you to himself, save you from your sins, and feed you at his table for eternity. Ok, go!
To men: Do we think about that in our daily lives? Do we seek to have emotional responses to the goodness of God in normal life, generally, so that we will be better worshipers in church, specifically? We should. This is a hard one for men raised on James Bond and Clint Eastwood to get their minds around, but better late than never. There are no commands in scripture to be the “strong silent type”, but there are lots about being the strong singing type, the strong worshiping type.
For you children: when choosing someone to admire, when considering what kind of person you want to be, I want you to do a little test. Think “Can I imagine so-and-so worshiping Jesus Christ with a deep and reverent joy?” If the answer is no, and it usually is, I want you to be wary of emulating too much of that person or of caring too much what that person thinks of you. That’s going to cross a lot of ball players and pop stars and pretty girls off your list; it might also cross some big brothers off of it. That’s ok, David’s brothers didn’t think much of him either.
To all of us: I said this earlier and I’ll say it again -Move toward obedience in worship in a costly manner. God does not require you to kill your own unique personality when you come to worship, but he does require you to kill your sin. Are you socially awkward and cover it up with irony and sarcasm? Then get your eyes off of yourself, fix your gaze on Jesus, and worship him with uncharacteristic sincerity and gravity, here. Do you bully your subordinates at work or home? Then here, humble yourself. For the glory of God prostrate yourself before Him. Has anger and self-righteousness affixed a nearly permanent scowl on your face, then here, in this place, be joyful and pay your widow’s mite of glee in the house of the Lord.
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Hold on a minute Sasser, that sounds like ‘fake it till you feel it’ hypocrisy? What about ‘these people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me’?” No, not, “fake it till you feel it” but “obedience till you feel it.” Sometimes the heart leads and the body follows. Sometimes the body leads and the heart follows. Lewis writes in Screwtape that “all mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be.” If so, act like a worshiper and see if you don’t just become one.
There are churches where it must be a grim thing to look out over the congregation during worship. I’m grateful that ours is not one of them, but obediently enthusiastic worship should never be something we take for granted. Today, it is taken for granted that we lift our hands and sing with enthusiasm and are built up by those with spiritual gifts. Will it still be true in twenty years? Faithful obedience is never owned, it is only leased, and the rent is due every Sunday. Dylan has a line in a song that goes:
Inside the museums, infinity goes up on trial
Voices echo this is what salvation must be like after a while.
Well, around here, Sunday mornings are a picture of what salvation looks like after a while. We are a church of several hundred people well acquainted with it. Perhaps too well acquainted. If, for you, “salvation after a while” stares at its phone during church then maybe it was never salvation to begin with, for love goes ever armed with zeal. Yes, even after a while. By the time the singing is finished, this room ought to smell like a locker room. There ought to be a line at the water fountain during announcements.
“Know that the Lord he is God.”
We worship with knowledge of God. We are people of the book. Our worship does not consist of swaying back and forth with mood music and dim lights. Someone told me the other day about how frustrating it was visiting a church where the lights were so low during worship that they couldn’t read their Bible. That’s exactly right. Just as we should be suspicious of every sermon that doesn’t begin with “turn in your Bibles to…” we should be suspicious of every worship service where it is too dark to read it. We should be those who sing loud, with hands raised, holding our toddlers, with our Bibles opened. (This takes four hands by the way.)
We worship in spirit and in truth. The Christian world can sometimes seem to be split between the head and the heart. There are the “head” Christians who read a lot and sing hymns with words like “diadem” in them. Then there are the “heart” Christians who are more expressive in worship or more intuitive in their relationship with God. They sing songs about chains breaking. One of the unique features of a church like ours is that we think the Bible calls us to be both head and heart Christians. Again, spirit and truth. My personal experience is that the more I learn about God the more that actually frees me up to be spontaneous and intuitive and relational in my worship and fellowship with him. It gives me content to sing and to pray. For the bookish, put your knowledge in service of praise. For the intuitive, expand your repertoire of praise with deep knowledge of God.
In classical music there’s something called a “cadenza”. What that is is a designated place in a concerto where the soloist makes up his own music. It’s a little parenthesis where he can show off just how good he is, not by playing what Mozart wrote, but by playing something he wrote himself. In a worship service like ours, there are opportunities for cadenzas - whispered prayers, shouted exhortations, spontaneous songs - and these cadenzas should be fullof the knowledge of God - incense ascending to his throne that is rich in love and rich in understanding.
Where is this worship done?
“Come into his presence with singing...enter his gates with thanksgiving...his courts with praise”
I recently read an interview of a Russian political dissident who’s on the run from Putin’s goons. He’s living in London and is essentially a wanted man. “It’s interesting,” he says. “I live a normal life in that I still take my kids to school and try to go on the treadmill and try to make sure everyone’s got their birthday present on time and all that. Life goes on in a normal way — 95 percent of the time. The other 5 percent is hair-raising.”
The Christian life is a little like that: we read our Bibles, pray for our children, share life together. Life goes on in a normal way. Then there’s this other part. The five percent. The hair-raising part.
That’s now. That’s Sunday morning. This right here, this is the 5%.
Never forget that God is here with us - in this very place, at this very moment - in a way that is unique from our regular life. It can be hard for us to get excited about the physical gathering of the saints. First, we are Christians, not Israelites. The temple was made spiritually obsolete by Christ in AD 33 and literally obsolete by Rome in AD 70. Second, we are Protestants, not Roman Catholics. Cathedrals are beautiful, but they’re also kind of terrible. Third, we’re middle-class and low-church and live in an aesthetically impoverished time and place. We meet in a renovated swimsuit factory. Fourth, as modern, disenchanted, digital-age people, we are allergic to the notion that physical things matter spiritually - the laying on of hands, anointing with oil, bread and wine, non-hologrammed pastors, and brick and mortar church buildings. But they do matter. When you walk through these doors on Sunday morning know that you are as near to the courts of heaven as you will ever be this side of the grave. God is present in our midst, enthroned on the praises of his people. Where two or more are gathered, yes; but even more so when a congregation, united by covenant commitment to one another, is led in praise by the elders to whom she is entrusted. We are the sheep of his pasture, not isolated lambs in private yards.
The conclusion of the Psalm gives us the substance of our worship.
“Give thanks to him / Bless his name”
Thankfulness is the mother-tongue of worship; the mother-tongue of the Christian life and the prerequisite for lasting joy. “Joyful thanksgiving” is the reflexive eruption of love expressed visibly, audibly, and intelligently toward God by the amazed recipients of his unmerited grace.A silent lover is one who doesn’t know his job.
Bless His name. Recite to God his many kindnesses toward you. Speak his goodness back to him. Take the raw material of your life - the mercies and trials and blessings and sufferings - and bejewel that material with praise, proclaim in the hearing of others that it was from the deep mines of his own love for you that such ore was brought to the light of day, attribute all of it to God’s kindness, add to the great record of his acts new entries of mercy.
“Provenance” - not “providence” but “provenance'' - is an unusual word that basically means the system of authenticating a work of art. Is it real or fake? Is it by a master or by an apprentice? “Lady With An Ermine” is a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that wasn’t known to be his until the 20th century. Do you know how they determined it? His fingerprints. Imagine that: Da Vinci’s finger prints in the paint. Christian, God’s fingerprints are all over your life. One of the ways we bless God’s name is by searching our lives for them and assigning his authorship to all our blessings. The substance of our praise is the provenancing of our life, the crediting of our life, to God’s gracious artistry. Bless the Lord oh my soul and forget not his benefits.
Point 2. We’ve spent the last thirty or so minutes discussing the who, how, where, and what of worship. But what about the cause of it? What about the why? The Psalmist’s reasons for worship can be categorized like this: we worship because (1) we are his and (2) he is good.
“The Lord, he is God / It is he who made us, and we are his / We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.../ The Lord is good / His steadfast love endures forever / And his faithfulness to all generations.”
We are His. Is there any greater comfort than belonging to God? For him to be, to us, the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10)? The shepherd who will guide us to springs of living water and will wipe away every tear (Rev 7); the shepherd who will carry us forever (Psalm 28); the one who with upright heart guides us with his skillful hand (Psalm 78); who will gather the lambs in his arms, carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40); the one who knows his own and whose own know him in return (John 10). Let your imagination linger all your life on such promises. Our Lord stated it himself that none whom his Father has given him will he ever lose. He carries you, defends you, knows you. He has died for you and with himself has raised you to newness of life.
To older men and women. The image of Christ-our-shepherd is as much for you as for the young. It is a hospital-room, as well as a nursery-room, promise. I know this to be so, because the very first time in the Bible that God is described as a shepherd comes from an old man on his deathbed. “And Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on the head of Ephraim and his left hand on the head of Manasseh, crossing his hands. And he blessed Joseph and said, ‘the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys.” So you see, He is not the shepherd only of the young, but of the old, unto your very death. And it is to his shepherding care that you intrust all whom you are soon to leave behind.
Why do we worship? Because we are His and He is good. Nearly two hundred times in the Bible God is described as bearing “steadfast love” toward us. Two hundred times. “Steadfast love” is boundless affection sealed by eternal oaths. It is a two-word summary of the Romans 8 love that “neither death nor life, height nor depth, things present nor things to come” can ever destroy. I hope when you encounter the words “steadfast love” in your Bible that a thrill runs down your spine. Like Moses before the burning bush, I hope you turn from your path to look at such a thing and take off your shoes before it. “Steadfast love” is that feature of Christ’s character that he is most pleased to display to his children. It is that feature of his character that lingers longest in our hearts, comforts most deeply in our distress, and which stirs up the profoundest praise.
Imagine walking down a crowded street and a man brushes past you wearing the exact same rare cologne that your father used to wear when he was alive and your heart jumps up into your throat. For that brief moment, you feel your father’s nearness, his uniqueness, his inexplicable essence like nothing else. That smell brings to you an entire world of safety and peace and security. When you see “steadfast love” in your Bible your heart should leap in just that same way. “Steadfast love” is your Lord’s own special, irreplicable, inexplicable, essential disposition toward you - his sobriquet, his epithet, his own rare perfume, the scent of his love toward you: frankincense and blood, myrrh and wine, hyssop and lilies from the valley wafting toward you from the pages of scripture and from the empty tomb saying “I am near, I am coming, I love you. Forever.”
“His steadfast love endures forever and his faithfulness to all generations.” The promise of future faithfulness is a sweet one to the Christian. What will two hundred years look like? What will fifty? What rough beast, even now, slouches toward Silicon Valley to be born? I do not know. But this I do know, God is good, his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
Alright, point 3: the culmination of our worship. Till now we’ve been in the details of this Psalm. Now let’s step back for a moment and look at the whole of it. What do you see? What are the images that come to mind? If you were to make a movie of Psalm 100, what would it be like?
Here’s what I see: a priest standing on the steps of the temple, calling out to all of Jerusalem and all the world saying “lay down your work and your play and come and worship.” And the camera would pan out and you would see streams of men and women and children coming from near and far with songs on their lips rejoicing in the goodness of God.
But what temple should we have in mind? David’s? Solomon’s? Ezra’s? Zechariah’s?
It’s right that we imagine the words of Psalm 100 as being spoken from temple steps. In fact, it’s even more right than you know. Why? Because that concluding phrase “the Lord is good, His steadfast love endures forever” is a temple phrase. More than that, it is a temple-consecrating, a temple-inaugurating phrase. A ribbon-cutting phrase. To the Israilites the phrase would have been as loaded with meaning and as conspicuous as “we hold these truths to be self-evident” and “four-score and seven years ago” are to us.
Why? Because those exact words “he is good, his steadfast love endures forever” were the culminating words spoken in worship when David brought the ark of the covenant into the tabernacle and the glory of the Lord descended; and they were the culminating words sung when Solomon brought the ark of the covenant into the temple and the glory of the Lord again descended; and they were the culminating words sung when Ezra laid the cornerstone for the rebuilt temple after the return of the exiles and all the people shouted with a great shout so that it was heard far away. So you see, not only is that phrase profound in its theology and comforting in its application, it’s important, historically, as the one phrase, more than any other, that signifies the great reality of God’s presence with, and delight in, his people.
So I’ll ask again, when we read Psalm 100, when we sing “the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever” and we imagine ourselves streaming into the temple to worship, what temple do we imagine? To whom or to what are we going?
Turn in your Bibles to Matthew 26
This is the night on which Jesus was betrayed. The scene is what we call the Last Supper, but of course to the disciples wasn’t the Last Supper but simply the annual Passover meal. You know the scene well so I won’t read the whole passage, but you can glance at it while I talk.
The Passover ceremony observed by Jesus and the disciples would have included, among other things, the singing of the hallel. The hallel consists of six Psalms: Psalms 113 through 118. In verse 30 it says “And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.”
What hymn would that have been?
Psalm 118, of course, the last Psalm of the hallel.
Turn to Psalm 118, verse 27 to the end. “The Lord is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us / Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar! / You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you. / Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!”
There they are, those words! The most weighty and sacred and precious in all the world! The very words that ushered the cloud of glory down upon David’s lesser son are said, here, by David’s greater son. The last words of the last supper sung in human speech by the last festal sacrifice ever to be bound to the horns of the altar are these: the Lord is good, his steadfast love endures forever.
Then Jesus went forth, not to consecrate a temple of stone and repeated sacrifice, but to destroy it and rebuild a new one in three days. No longer a temple built with hands but a far greater one, eternal, established in his very self to which we are joined and in whom we abide. It is at that temple that we worship. It is for that glory that we look, it is intoHis presence that we come singing and giving thanks for his loyal, covenantal, never ending, steadfast love.
I have two burdens for the morning: first is to encourage those who have never really given themselves over to expressive worship to feel the happy weight of God’s commands in this area. Worshiping with enthusiastic joy is not a personality trait or a denominational style choice, it is what the people of God have been called to do since the morning stars first sang together and all the sons of God first shouted for joy.
My second burden is for people like me, who do think of themselves as obedient, enthusiastic, worshipers. Have we grown complacent? Surely there is more that God wants from us than arms raised and eyes closed and the occasional trip to the prophecy mic. We may not be as faithful as we think. Maybe we just learned a certain style of worshiping at a big arena conference when we were nineteen and have been on cruise control ever since. Has he not also commanded us to kneel and bow down? Has he not also commanded us to shout? To dance? When have I ever called on the elders to anoint me with oil when sick? How often do I come forward at the end of the services for prayer, knowing that the prayers of the righteous availeth much? Or seek earnestly gifts of wisdom, knowledge, and prophecy?
In Exodus 35 and 36, all the people brought their gifts for the construction of the tabernacle, but at some point Moses told them to stop. Enough had been brought - enough gold, enough fabric, enough wood. The time of giving had ended and the time of worship was beginning. The same may be true of you. It may be that you should stop looking to see how God can use your natural gifts and talents in church. It may now be the time for you to simply worship. Maybe, like the song says, “worship like never before.”
Church, all things will pass away. But our worship of God, the prayers and songs and baptisms and sermons that happen here week after week, in a very real way live forever. Your physical body joined with your undying soul, engaged in true worship of the true God is the one eternal thing about you.
It is a simple fact that there are more men here with seminary degrees than there are pastors; more men who could be deacons than are deacons, wise and Godly mothers whose children are grown, brilliant men and women who have no more exams to take, faithful wives whose husbands are gone, soldiers with no more wars to fight, businessmen who have retired, and performers with no stages left to stand on - and each of us frets about how the church can use us. It can't. At some point, our skills become superfluous. We aren’t here to start a niche ministry that corresponds to our unique talents. We're here to worship.
When your wife lies sick, worship. When your child curses you, worship. When you face financial ruin, worship. When hidden sin is exposed at last, worship. While the whole world burns and all that was once green turns gray, worship.
“For thus says the Lord, in this place of which you say, ‘It is a waste without man or beast,’ in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, without man or inhabitant or beast, there shall be heard again the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voices of those who sing as they bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord:
Give thanks to the Lord of hosts,
For the Lord is good,
For his steadfast love endures forever!’”
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