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Living as we do in insane times, we need to be reminded regularly of what we’re supposed to be doing. Otherwise, it is easy to get distracted by the next kamikaze clown car that pulls into town. We have said, and we will not get tired of saying, that our central duty is to worship the Lord, centrally here in corporate worship, but the point is for that gladness and thanksgiving to pour out into our homes and work. And it’s fitting that we take time periodically to make a point of that, as we do in our country for Thanksgiving. So this is a message about celebrating Thanksgiving in the presence of our enemies, Thanksgiving for insane times. Psalm 98 gives us glorious words to sing, to meditate on, to believe, and to live.
“O sing unto the LORD a new song; for he hath done marvelous things: his right hand, and his holy arm, hath gotten him the victory…” (Ps. 98).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
This song calls out to everyone and everything to sing to the Lord a new song because God has done wonderful things right out in the open for everyone to see: the pagans and the house of Israel and all the ends of the earth have seen it (98:1-3). Not only should all the people sing, but all the earth should rejoice loudly, with strings and horns, because the Lord is King (98:4-6). Let the sea churn with loud praise and everyone on the sea and on the coastlands, and let the rivers clap their hands and the whole congregation of mountains should shout at the same time (98:7-8). All of this is “before the Lord” because He is there, and therefore He is judging the whole world in perfect justice (98:9).
A NEW SONG
While it is certainly fitting to write and compose new songs for praise, like Israel did on the banks of the Red Sea (Ex. 15) or when Mary did at the approaching birth of Jesus (Lk. 1), the fundamental point is that our gratitude and praise need to be new. Our hearts need to be new. This psalm is gloriously generic: “for wonders He has done.” Perhaps the psalmist is thinking of the Exodus or maybe other victories in battle or deliverances, or perhaps even creation itself. While this psalm does anticipate new acts of salvation, the emphasis is on new praise, new gratitude because God is there. A constant search for novelty often leads people away from Christ who is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). God’s mercies are new every morning not because God changes in the slightest but precisely because He doesn’t. New hearts sing new songs of thanksgiving because they see what’s right in front of them.
A PUBLIC SALVATION
As we have noted, this psalm doesn’t give any one particular historic moment for this call of praise, but do not miss the fact that this is a psalm of praise for past salvation in hope of ongoing and future salvation. “… his right hand, and his holy arm hath gotten him the victory. The Lord has made known his salvation…all ends of earth have seen the salvation of our God…” (Ps. 98:1-3). But then, having called everyone and everything to celebrate that, the final verse says, “Before the Lord; for he cometh to judge the earth: with righteousness shall he judge the world, and the people with equity” (98:9). This is a song of praise not for a moment where there are no dark clouds in the sky. This is a psalm of praise for when God’s people need justice and vindication. Why should we sing this new song of praise? Because God has acted in the past to judge and save (98:1-3) Because He is King (98:6), and He is there (98:9) and He comes to judge the world (98:9). This is not merely the justice of the end of the world (although it includes that). The kind of salvation this psalm is celebrating and anticipating is the kind He has done before, the kind that is “openly shown” and “all the ends of the earth have seen.”
THE RIVERS DO CLAP
While we know that all of creation groans in eager expectation, waiting for the redemption of mankind (Rom. 8:19-23), nevertheless, all of creation has always and will always still declare the glory of God (Ps. 19:1-2). While it will one day be completely free of the curse of sin, the sea roars right now in praise of the King. The rivers clap their hands together now because Jesus is King. The mountains do shout joyfully in allegiance to their Maker. In other words, we call on the whole creation to sing with us right now, but they are singing already and the Bible says that in general, it’s people who need to catch up. Creation is telling the glory of God every day, and it’s people who tend to miss it, ignore it, or willfully suppress it (cf. Rom. 1:18-20). Thus, the existence of the glory and majesty and beauty and order of creation proclaims to us and the whole world that God is King: He is present and at work judging the world now.
If Israel could sing this song having creation, the patriarchs, the exodus, the judges, and some of the kings and prophets, how much more do we have reason to sing? We have all of that, plus the rest of the Old Testament, and the fulfillment of all those promises in Jesus: His birth, life, miracles, His teaching, His courage and compassion, His love unto death, His public trial, beatings, mockings, and crucifixion, His resurrection from the dead, ascension into Heaven, and the pouring out of His Spirit. We have the ministries and testimonies of the apostles, the early church fathers, the martyrs, the evangelists and missionaries for over two thousand years: His forgiving, saving, delivering, comforting, blessing – the wonders He has done.
What do you do when the world has gone mad? What do you do when it is dark? You smile and you sing before the Lord. That means you know He’s there. He’s present. And if He is here, then He sees and He is judging until everything is right. The central way you know this is because He sent His only Son into the world: that was the greatest victory, the greatest salvation, His full righteousness in the sight of all the nations. He remembered His mercy and truth at that point in history as the most public display that He will never forget His mercy and truth to His people. He came in person so that we (and the whole world) might know that this is His world.
So sing. No really: you have to sing. I don’t care if you can’t carry tune in a bucket full of holes. Neither can the mountains. Make a joyful noise. Men, sing. Sing in your homes. Sing around your table. Practice. Learn. Keep trying.
God’s goodness towers over the current darkness. Do not be distracted. Keep your eyes fixed on the King. And make a point to celebrate His towering goodness this week. Let your tables be filled with good things and laughter and singing before the Lord. He is King, and He comes.