Singing a New Song Together for the Glory of God
Scripture: Psalm 149
Gathering together to worship God is a joy and a privilege. It is good to come together to praise God as the Merciful One who has saved us from our sin, and the Holy One who is coming again to judge the world with perfect justice.
Well, good morning. Last year, I with my family, we took a trip to Niagara Falls. We were staying on the East Coast in Boston, and we knew that Niagara Falls was on the route home. So we we made sure to stop in. And we planned half a day at Niagara Falls. So we packed up our car and we walked through the national park there. And lo and behold, there was Niagara Falls to see. Now, we had seen this on TV. We’d seen it in the movies. But there’s nothing quite like experiencing Niagara Falls in person. We took the Maid of the Mist, the boat out into the Falls to really kind of get an idea, get as close as we could to just the sheer power of the water and the noise as it comes over there. It was an amazing experience and one that we will never forget. And these types of experiences, these are the kinds of experiences you don’t keep to yourself. When we returned home, we told people about it and we we showed pictures and we showed video that we’d captured of our time there. In fact, I think one of those pictures is in the Bulletin this morning. It would have been strange if we had been and visited Niagara and then just gone on our way and never mentioned it to anyone ever again. And that just doesn’t apply to these big experiences. That applies to the smaller things of life as well. If we’ve been to see a movie or a play, we tend to tell people about the storyline or the plot or the special effects. If someone we know has been to a good restaurant, then they feel compelled to tell us about the good food, the menu or the customer service.
What we say in in relation to other things can affect and influence others, and what others say about things they’ve experienced has an effect on us as well. What I’m describing here is the act of praising something, speaking positively about a person, a place or a thing. We typically don’t enjoy something and then just keep it to ourselves. We tell others about it, we externalize it. We let others know. That’s the heart of what it means to praise. First we experience something and then we tell others about it. The praise follows the experience. It’s almost as if the act of telling others as well kind of completes the experience for us.
Our Psalm this week is Psalm 149. It’s the penultimate Psalm in the book and it’s a psalm of praise. We’re not entirely sure who wrote the psalm. It could well have been David. It may have been somebody else. But we’re going to walk through this Psalm together this morning to see how it shapes and how it informs our corporate worship life. And then we’re going to wrestle with those last few verses of judgment and vengeance and look at how can we hold those two things in tension. So I encourage you to open up your Bibles if you have one, or the Bible in front of you as we walk through this Psalm together. It starts off in familiar territory. In that first verse, Praise the Lord. This is a phrase that most of us are familiar with. The concept of praising or giving praise appears in the Bible over 270 times, and 162 of those are in the book of Psalms. The Hebrew word for praise is halal. And that’s the root of another word that I think most of us will know fairly well. The word hallelujah. And this Hebrew word means give praise to the Lord. And this is where the psalmist is directing our attention. Right at the beginning of this psalm, he’s saying to the reader, Speak highly of the Lord or tell others about the good things you know to be true about God. As we’ve been reminded of throughout this summer series so far, the Psalms are a collection of songs and poems and the fact that God has put so many of these songs and these poems right at the center of His word should give us a hint that there is something special about putting words and music together. It’s one thing to tell of God’s goodness through words, but when we take words and then add melodies and harmonies, instruments and voices, it becomes something much more engaging and compelling.
Because of my involvement in worship, I’ve given quite a bit of thought to the ways in which music and especially singing appear in the Bible. And they’re not just suggestions, they’re not just kind of good ideas, they are commands. God makes it really clear in His Word that we are to sing. In His wisdom. He’s given us this unique and special gift, and something wonderful happens when we take truths about God and we put them to music. Words combined with music stirs the affections of our hearts. And by affections, I mean those underlying motivations that drive what we do and how we feel. They’re deeper than our emotions and in many ways, our affections drive our emotions. Think about “In Christ alone”. We’ve just sung it a few moments ago. Each of the verses tells us of a different aspect of our life in Christ. The hope that we have in him, how He is our foundation. He is our light. They’re good words. And the melody of that hymn is good too. It’s singable and it’s memorable. And it rises and falls with the words. So on their own, the lyrics are good and the music’s good. And yet something profound happens when we take both and we put them together. If I read the first part of verse three, for example: “There in the ground, his body lay, light of the world by darkness slain. Then bursting forth in glorious day up from the grave, He rose again”. How much better is it when we sing that together than me just reading those words? This is God’s design for his people, that we would be a people who sing the truth together. Singing is a great unifier. It puts us all on the same footing, on the same level. It’s a communal activity that brings us closer to one another and to God. Colossians 3:16 gives us an insight into what’s happening when we sing together. It says, ‘Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God.’.
It’s helpful to understand that in our worship, in our corporate worship, there are two dimensions going on. There’s the horizontal dimension and there’s a vertical dimension. The vertical dimension to our worship is, is that dimension that’s between us and God. Each of us here have a personal relationship with the Lord. He knows us. He created us. We love him. We sing to him. We worship him. Personal worship is essential and it’s important and it’s a good thing. And yet there’s also this horizontal aspect to our worship as well. It’s that teaching and admonishing one another part of coming together. It’s the encouragement that we get when we join our voices and sing together to praise God. As a worship leader, there have been many times when I’ve looked out, I’ve been leading worship and I have seen somebody I know who’s walking through a tough time. Maybe they’ve lost somebody. Maybe there’s a significant trial in their life. And often I see those people in their pain and in their suffering. They’re singing praise to God, sometimes with tears rolling down their face. And that is such an encouragement to me and it’s such an encouragement to others when we know that people are struggling and yet they still choose to lift God’s name high and declare His faithfulness. It’s a sad fact today that many churches are losing this this horizontal dimension when the music becomes so loud that it drowns out all the sound of the congregation, or when the lights come down so low that we have no idea who’s sat literally next to us or behind us in front of us. We’ve lost that connection with each other. One of the first things that struck me when I arrived at Calgary in January of this year was that you are a singing church and that is great. I love that about this place. We should protect that, I believe, and we should work hard at maintaining it and nurturing it and encouraging each other to be singing loudly and passionately. Your voice really does make a difference. You may not feel like your voice is adding anything. Your neighbor may not feel like your voice is adding anything either. But that’s not the point. The point is not to sing on pitch and in tune. The point is to lift your voice out, to declare praise to God. There’s something amazing that happens when you take 200 or 300 voices and you join together and sing together. So let this Psalm be an encouragement to you this morning and give you more reasons to sing and praise God.
So there we have the directive laid out before us in that opening verse. But what are we to sing? Well, the psalmist tells us, he says, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song. His praise in the Assembly of the Godly”. Here is a clear exhortation to sing a new song. Now, it’s tempting at this point to start building a case that in church today we should only sing new songs, modern songs, fresh songs. It would be very easy to do that, actually. I’m not sure if you’re aware, but the sheer number and volume of songs being published right now, it’s like no other time in history we have access to all the songs of old, and there is a constant release of new church music that’s being released every single week that we have access to very easily. And so it would be simple in some ways just to keep pumping out and using new songs. But that’s not really what is being referred to here. You see, Israel’s corporate songs were mainly written to recount God’s intervention into the nation’s life. Their songs would recall times when God delivered them from their enemies or saved them from disaster, and probably the most well-known is when God delivered them from captivity in Egypt.
So the new song here is simply a way of saying Sing of new ways of God’s salvation, or tell of new ways in which God has been faithful to you and saved you and delivered you from calamity. And this new song idea and concept is throughout Scripture. One example we find is in Isaiah 42, where he writes “Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise from the end of the earth. You who go down into the sea and all that fills it, the Coastlands and their inhabitants.” Here, Isaiah is prophetically writing about a time when the Lord will reign in Jerusalem and all the nations will be drawn to praise him. So that new song that he’s writing about is that ultimate song of salvation, the song that will be sung at the end of time when God’s people are with him forever. And the Psalmist in Psalm 149 is encouraging the readers to start singing that new song now. But we can, and we should, also sing the songs of old as well. That’s another thing I really appreciate about Calvary is there’s a desire and a passion to sing new songs that declare new things about God’s glory. But there’s also a real desire to sing the hymns and the songs of old as well. There is a sense that we can sing an old song in a new way.
We can use a familiar song and we can sing of the new ways that God is actively at work in our lives through the power of the Gospel. We can sing of the new ways in which God is working in different generations, and we can take a song that people have been singing for centuries and then sing it with fresh new affections and with a renewed heart towards God. See, it’s not the age of a song or even the song itself, or even the musical instruments that enable worship, it’s crucial that we remember that it’s only because of Jesus and by Jesus and through Jesus that we’re able to worship. Songs and music are tools that let us express our worship. So the psalmist is calling the people of Israel to sing of what God has done, to sing of what he is going to do in the future. And yet he’s also calling them to worship God for who he is. We read in Psalm 149:2; ‘Let Israel be glad in his maker. Let the children of Zion rejoice in their King’. God is their maker. God is their creator. He’s their creator as individuals, as men and women and children who have made have been made in the image of God. And yet he’s also the one who called them into existence as a nation, his chosen covenantal people. He called them into existence as a distinct people created for his own good, redemptive purposes. And we are called to be glad in those same truths. As individuals, we can find joy in being God’s creatures created in His image. We’re called to be glad in, and at peace with, who he’s made us to be. Our physical appearance, our personalities, our gifts, our abilities, our strengths and our weaknesses. He’s made us male and female, and we’re created by him to reflect an image of him in this world. And just as formed, just as God formed the people of Israel, He’s also formed the church that’s one of his creations. And we can be glad and rejoice that the church is part of that creation. This next verse is perhaps one that we are less comfortable with, as it mentions that dreaded D word. Verse three: ‘Let them praise his name with dancing, making melody to him with tambourine and lyre’. And don’t worry, that’s not just a Minnesotan thing or a Midwest thing. Us Brits are as adverse to moving our bodies in public as well. We don’t do that very well. But there are many places in the world where this does come naturally. Anyone who’s visited the continent of Africa will know, this comes very naturally to people there. But to us in our Western culture, this is a this is a tough one. But it is important for us to be reminded that as we praise God, it should be an activity that affects the whole of us.
In Deuteronomy, God’s people were instructed to love the Lord, your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Or we could say with all your strength. We’re called to worship God with all that we have available to us. Of course, there is more to worshiping God with our bodies than just dancing. That goes way beyond the the realm of dancing and goes into the ways that we can honor God with how we conduct ourselves and what we do with our bodies. But we can’t deny that physical expressions of worship are encouraged in God’s Word. If you’re struggling with the concept of dance, then it might help to think about other forms of physical expression that we can do during our times of worship. For example, there’s many directives in the Psalms to raise hands and to clap hands, just as a couple of examples. But of course, these actions must flow from the right heart. Any form of physical expression, it can be manipulated. We can just do it on the outside while our hearts are far from God. And so we must make sure that those affections are being driven rightly again by God and His Word, so that when we have these outward expressions of worship, they flow naturally. Well, the psalmist is getting at here is that the people of God can and should enjoy being in the presence of God. Music and singing and dancing. They paint this picture of celebration. It’s an activity that will lift their spirits and remind them of his faithfulness. They will remember how he has protected them, how he has fulfilled his promises to them, and not left them overcome or destroyed. But it goes deeper than that. The gathering of God’s people in worship brings enjoyment to God Himself. It says in verse 4: ‘For the Lord takes pleasure in his people; He adorns the humble with salvation’. God delights in the gathering of his people as they come to worship him. I wonder if that thought ever crossed your mind this morning as you got up, you got dressed, you had breakfast, and you made your way to church. That God takes delight when we come together to meet in his presence. In an age when our attitude to worship is becoming more and more consumeristic, I think this is a really good reminder for us. And this can only add more to our joy as we understand that it pleases God when we worship Him as one body united in our love and our desire for Christ. And that desire for our savior Jesus is what sets us apart from Israel. Today we have the the full revelation of Scripture that reveals the person of Jesus Christ. We know from our vantage point that God gave himself fully to us in Jesus. The people of Israel, they had prophecies that pointed to the coming Messiah. But for us here today, we can see how those prophecies were fulfilled in the person of Jesus. And those Old Testament ways of worship, with the rituals and the sacrifices, they were just pointing to the one true sacrifice who would come and die once for all. That’s the heart of the gospel, that anyone who humbles themself acknowledges that they are a sinner and places their complete trust in Jesus Christ will be saved. The salvation flows as they acknowledge their need to be saved from God’s judgment. It’s a humbling thing to admit that you’re in the wrong, and that you’re in desperate need of help to escape the consequences of your sin. God is pleased to adorn the humble with salvation. It’s a gift from him that flows as we place our hope in Jesus. This gospel brings us joy and it brings us freedom and it brings God pleasure as we display our need and our dependence on him, not because he needs our dependence to make him happy, but because his name is glorified when we acknowledge our need of a savior. It’s this very thing that glorifies God. It makes him bigger in our eyes, and it makes him bigger in the eyes of the world.
I’ve been part of a number of different churches over the years, and anyone who’s ever been to more than one church will know this, that every church has its own liturgy, and by that I really mean its own order of service or flow of a service. Some churches have a very formal liturgy, and then other churches have a very informal liturgy. But whether a service is formal or informal, there is a purpose to our worship services. There is a purpose to this service right now that we’re all in. Mike Cosper, in his book Rhythms of Grace, he writes about the way in which our services are an opportunity to rehearse and retell the gospel each and every week. Every time we gather, we have an opportunity to walk through the gospel story with songs and prayers and readings, scriptures, sermons, and with the sacraments of communion and baptism. And that forms an arc or a pathway of the gospel story. And it should take us through the gospel truths together. And it works something like this. We might start with God’s Word, reminding us that he is our creator. We might start with Scripture that reminds us of his unchanging character and how He’s made us to reflect Him and His glory and power. And then we moved to singing. And often we’ll start with Songs of Praise and Thanksgiving for who He is. Then we move to Scripture or songs or even prayers that remind us of our sinful nature, how we fallen short of the perfection that God demands. And we can use a song or a prayer that enables us to confess that sin to God and to one another. Other elements in our services remind us and reassure us that God is loving, that He’s forgiving, He’s merciful, and He’s made a way for us to be forgiven in the work of Jesus Christ. And before we leave, there’s often a reminder of the hope that we have set before us because of his resurrection and our future spent in eternity with Him. This gospel arc is outworked differently each week in this church and in other churches around the world. And we don’t necessarily feature every element every single week. But I think it’s really helpful to have this in mind every time we come to worship that there is a sense that we are retelling each other the story of the gospel through the service. This is one of the reasons why the church meets, because we’re a weak people. We’re a forgetful people and we easily forget that we’re part of a way bigger story of redemption. In the assembling of God’s people together is a powerful witness where people from different walks of life and different jobs, different backgrounds and cultures, we come together to give honor and praise to God by recalling and recounting the wonderful ways He’s redeemed and brought us together into relationship with Him and with each other. And so it’s integral to our faith together. And yet we’ve all had seasons where it’s been a struggle to get to church. There are many distractions and reasons for us not to attend. I don’t need to list those out. I’m sure you know those. But hopefully what you’re seeing laid out in this Psalm is the importance of coming together to worship. It blesses you, it blesses others, and it blesses God.
And so continuing in verse 5, he writes, ‘Let the godly exalt in glory. Let them sing for joy on their beds’. I’ll admit it was tempting to wonder if this is some prophetic look ahead to the year 2020, when I read this. When worshippers all over the world would be singing to God from under the duvet with a laptop balanced on the pillow. I know you all did it. I know we were all there. During the pandemic, we went through a season of being gathered to being scattered and it was a strange, confusing and disorienting time. At my previous church, we would pre-record the music in that season during the week, and then I would gather with my family to watch on Sunday. And I was in that very strange position of leading myself in worship, which I wouldn’t recommend. Not a nice experience. I’d even have times when I have to tell my family to be quiet because I’m praying. Can’t you see I’m praying. It was a strange time and I’m so glad those days are past. It’s difficult to worship alone, and it was difficult to worship during that season that we found ourselves in. And I think if anything has come from the pandemic, that’s good, it’s perhaps a renewed appreciation that we have for our gatherings together. So I think we can safely say that verse is not some prophetic look ahead to worshipping God during the pandemic. It likely has a couple of different meanings and I think both are helpful to us. One explanation is that the bed is a reference to the private place. The psalmist is saying Worship God in the assembly, but also worship Him when you’re on your own during the week in those private spaces. Another explanation is that the bed is a reference to a place of mourning, and there are several accounts in the Bible that refer to the bed and people retreat to their bed when they’re lamenting or they’re in a place of mourning. And I think this explanation is helpful to us because it encourages us to see the instruction of God, to praise him even during trials and sufferings. And it helps us see that transformational power where we go to a place of mourning, to a place of celebration.
Now it would have been really easy for me to stop the sermon about here. And maybe some of you are hoping that I do that. But the Psalmist hasn’t made it that easy for us. The key message up until this point in the psalm has been this It’s been praised. God praise him as your maker, Praise him as you gather together, praise him in your home, praise him during the times of joy and suffering. But the psalmist doesn’t end there. This is where the psalm shifts into a different gear and we have the final four verses that take us into different territory. So let’s read those together. Starting at verse 6, it says, ‘Let the high praises of God be in their throats and two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishments on the peoples to bind their kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron to execute on them the judgment written! This is honor for all his godly ones’.
Just like Psalm 109 and Psalm 44 that Kyle touched on so well last week and the week before, this is one of those Psalms that makes us feel uncomfortable. I know my inclination was to take the first five verses and then leave the other four verses and push them to one side. I kind of get visions of the Crusades and things like that. And I ask the question, How does worshiping God lead to taking up weapons and bringing judgment on others? But we can’t just pick and choose which verses of God’s word we want to take and then which ones we want to leave. So at this point, we have to ask two questions We have to ask. First of all, what did the psalmist have in mind when he wrote this psalm? And then secondly, what do we do with these verses today?
To help answer the first question, it’s helpful to understand that this Psalm was very likely written after a victory that God gave to Israel. Last week, Psalm 109 dealt with an individual. It was David, and he had a very personal reason that he wanted to or wanted God to seek vengeance on another individual. And he was calling down curses and judgment on that individual. But this psalm is a corporate psalm. There’s a sense of gathering together in the assembly, singing praise, and then that leads out into battle. And it’s really important for us to understand and recognize that their motivation for these military conquests and battles, they weren’t some kind of personal vendetta or vengeance. Israel was not trying to conquer the world. Israel was being used by God to bring judgment upon other nations who were living in rebellion against him. Kings and rulers who were attempting to destroy God’s chosen people. And so the people of Israel saw it as an honor to execute God’s judgment on behalf of God himself. They were the underdog mostly as well. So on paper, they shouldn’t have won at all. They had far bigger enemies who were more powerful, and yet God used them to fulfill his purposes and to bring him glory. So what do we do with these verses today? Well, we need to understand that this was a very unique calling that was only given to Israel for a period in history. We can look back now with the benefit of hindsight given to us in Scripture, and we can see that through Israel. God was pointing other nations to himself, and He used them to bring judgment on those other nations and those tribes who opposed him. And one of the main reasons God did that was to protect the line of descendants that would lead all the way to Jesus. Jesus came to fulfill all the commandments and all the laws that Israel was unable to keep. Where they failed, He remained faithful. And the judgment of all the nations and the kings and the powers of this world ultimately now rests in Jesus’ hands. It’s not in Israel’s hands, and it’s not in our hands as the church. Our task today is not one of physical warfare, but it is one of worship. And let’s not forget that we are in a battle. We’re in a spiritual battle. And the weapon God has given us is sharper than any two-edged sword. It’s his living and active word. And just like the armies of old, when they would go out to battle, they had the musicians and the singers at the front. There is a sense also that our praise and our worship is a weapon that the Lord has given to us for the battle that rages against the the dark spiritual forces.
But ultimately, Jesus will come again to judge the world according to his perfect standards. No one will escape his justice. But if you have acknowledged your sin, if you’ve humbled yourself, if you’ve placed your trust in him and made him your Lord and your Savior, his death on the cross covers you from the wrath of God. He took the full punishment upon himself in your place. You are safe and secure, and nothing can separate you from the love of God. God in His love has to deal with sin. It would be unloving of God if he just let sin run its course forever without dealing with it once and for all. In his patience, he’s endured the sin and rebellion of mankind for thousands of years. But as we read in Revelation, there will come a day when he will return in power to bring final judgment on all the world. And either you cling to the cross of Christ or you stand on your own. And so this psalm is a reminder to us all of God’s full and complete nature. He’s a merciful God and he’s a holy God. And Psalms like this are really important because we need that complete view of God’s character in order to worship Him for who He is. Otherwise, we just fall into idol worship. We create a false idol. A false god in our own image who has all the characteristics that we like, and then we just leave all the characteristics that we struggle with. Yes, He’s a god of grace. He’s a god of love. And he’s a god of mercy. Amen to that. But that grace and that love and that mercy are meaningless without his white-hot passion for holiness. Right at the end of this psalm, we see a reference to the judgment written. All God’s judgments are carefully and perfectly thought through, and He will deal with Satan and sin in such a perfect way that will give us even more cause to worship him throughout the rest of eternity. We know the outcome. We know who has the victory. We can trust God in his perfections and we can trust his perfect love. And we can trust his perfect justice. In a very real sense, this new song that is Psalm is putting before us is pointing to the ultimate new song that we read of in Revelation 5. And when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the 24 elders fell down before the lamb, each holding a harp and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song saying, Worthy are you to take the scroll, and to open its seals, for you were slain and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. And you have made them a kingdom and priest to our God and they shall reign on the earth. So let’s let this new song be the fuel in our hearts, driving our affections in our corporate worship, from now and into eternity. Amen. Will you pray with me?