Declare His Glory Among the Nations
When’s the last time flew on an airline? Some of you have maybe never had that opportunity. Some of you have had it a lot more than you’d care to remember.
I flew in and out of Calgary back in June, and I watched with amusement again as, shortly before the plane takes off, the flight attendants take their spots, get everybody’s attention, and ask you to take that card out of the seat in front of you and follow along as they do their safety demonstration.
And everybody in the plane just does nothing. They completely ignore the attendants. There they are going through their speech, showing how to fasten and tighten your buckle, and where the exits are, and people keep talking and checking their phones as if they don’t even exist.
Now I hadn’t flown in that kind of plane before, and so I thought that maybe I should take a look at the safety card, just in case something did happen. But I actually felt embarrassed. I found myself kind of sneaking a few looks and doing my best to act like I wasn’t listening to the safety speech like everybody else.
How ridiculous is that? We are about to trust our lives to a pair of pilots up in the front who are going to take us in this metal tube up to 30,000 feet at hundreds of miles an hour. If anything goes wrong, so much is at stake. These flight attendants are instructing us in matters of life and death significance, and we just tune them out because we think we’ve heard it all already and we assume it doesn’t apply to us.
But then, a few minutes later, they came by to hand out snacks. And people listened a lot more carefully then. Because that’s the part that felt like it really mattered.
I think Christians often treat the Bible the same way we treat flight attendants. There’s a few parts of the Bible that we think really matter, really apply to us, or really make us feel good, and we listen really well to those.
But then there are huge sections of the Bible that just don’t pay that much attention to. We hear a few words and our brains start to disengage as if the flight attendant is talking. “Oh ya, one of these parts. I know what this is saying. I know where this is going. Blah, blah, blah.”
I did that for many years with Psalms like Psalm 96. As you read through the Psalms, you’ve got all of these psalms of praise, and if you’re not reading carefully they all start to just blend together. And so as soon as I would hear these opening words, “Sing a new song,” my mind would just check out. “Ok, another Psalm of praise. I know where this is going.”
But then a few years ago I heard a sermon where the preacher quoted from Psalm 96. And I remember sitting up in shock thinking, “That’s in there? The Bible says that?” I’d probably read through the Psalms at least 3 or 4 times by then and had never really noticed what this Psalm actually said.
So this morning we’re going to not treat Psalm 96 like a pre-flight safety speech. We’re going to approach this as the living and active word of God, and lean in to actually listen to what it’s saying. Because what they say might be shocking. Maybe even life-changing. And definitely not anything we want to tune out.
“Sing to the Lord!”
As we look at Psalm 96 as a whole, we can see that it’s made up of three main sections. There’s verses 1-6, verses 7-9, and verses 10-13. And each section opens up with a comment.
So let’s start at the very beginning, with that opening command: “Oh sing to the Lord a new song” (Psalm 96:1).
Now stop right there. Don’t tune these words out. Don’t roll the eyes of your heart. Think about this. Psalm 96:1 is a direct command to sing to the Lord.
Do you sing to the Lord? When you come here on Sunday morning, do you sing with everybody else? It changes things when you know that singing is not something we do just do to fill time, but something we’re commanded to do. Not singing is disobeying.
The Bible commands us to sing over and over again, because God is too great to just talk about. We need to engage our voices and our emotions and our creativity as we sing to the Lord.
And because God never gets boring, never gets stale, fresh words on our part are required. It’s good to have some tried-and-true songs that we return to time and again—like the Psalms themselves—but it’s also important for us to continue to write and sing new songs to the Lord. That’s what Psalm 96 describes.
What sort of songs should we sing? Songs which “bless his name,” as verse 2 says. Songs which say good things about God and his reputation. Songs which “tell of his salvation” as verse 2 also says. Our songs should be full of the things that God has done, the salvation He has worked for his people. They should be full of His glory and his marvellous works, as verse 3 says.
The songs that we sing together here in church should never be primarily about us. Our songs should be about God and who He is and what He has done and how glorious He is and how marvellous His works are.
So hear that this morning. “Sing to the Lord a new song.” This is a command just bursting with implications for our life together as a church.
And we’re just getting started. Because we can’t miss the other major element going on here in these first verses. Who is supposed to sing to the Lord? Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord, all the earth.”
And again, don’t tune that out. Think about what it says. This Psalm calls the whole earth to worship God. Everybody, everywhere.
And this isn’t just an empty phrase, just filler words. Listen to verse 3: “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” (Psalm 96:3).
This praising and this singing that we are called to do is not just for our own private experience. Israel was not just to praise God when they gathered in the sanctuary. The truths about God that they worshiped him for in the sanctuary were to be declared around the world. The whole world needed to hear about the things God had done.
Why? Why was this so important and necessary? Verse 4 tells us, with that opening word “For.” Or “because.” Here’s why God is to be praised among the nations.
“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” (Psalm 96:4–6).
God’s people do not need to tell the nations to worship. They’re already doing that. The problem is that they are worshipping the wrong thing. They’re worshipping nothings. That’s the sense of the word here. Their gods are absolutely worthless.
So instead, they should be worshipping the Lord. Why? Because He is great and to be feared above all gods. And we know this because He made the heavens (v. 6). He is the one, true, creator God. And He is not a boring, drab God. He is surrounded by splendour and majesty and strength and beauty, like verse 7 says.
If this is who God is, than the nations must worship Him instead of those those good-for-nothing idols. And that means that God’s glory must be declared among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples (v. 3).
The Mission of God’s People
This is the truth that stunned me from Psalm 96 when I stared it in the face for the first time. I was shocked to discover that here in the Old Testament, in the middle of what I thought was a “generic” psalm of praise, was this whole theology of mission.
God deserves worship from everybody, and He’s not getting it, so people need to go and tell all the peoples about Him so that the whole earth praises Him.
I was completely surprised by that. But I shouldn’t have been. Because the whole storyline of the Bible is been about this. God’s plan has always been for the nations.
God called Abraham and promised that “… in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). And when God rescued Israel from Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai, what did He say to them there? “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…” (Exodus 19:5–6).
What do priests do? They represent God to people, and people to God. And that was Israel’s job. To be a whole kingdom of priests for the rest of the world, showing the nations who God is.
Psalm 96 isn’t introducing a new idea. It’s reinforcing the main idea of the whole story. God saved His people so that the nations would praise Him (c.f. Ezekiel 39:7).
And the thread of this story continues up to you and me today. What did Peter write to his Gentile readers in 1 Peter 2:9? “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
The words of Exodus 19 are for all of God’s people including us Gentiles today. And our mission today is the same: to proclaim the excellencies of our saviour. To declare His glory among the nations, His marvellous works among all the peoples.
That’s what our mission is about. We don’t go just to help people, just to meet needs. We don’t go even just to rescue people from Hell.
We do all those things, but we do them because God is worthy of the worship of the nations. We do them because the Lamb deserves the worship of every tribe, language, people, and nation. Our mission is about God’s glory.
I can’t improve on John Piper’s powerful summary: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.”
That’s what Psalm 96 is telling us. There has always been a mission, and that mission has always been about God’s glory among the nations.
“Ascribe to the Lord Glory and Strength”
So that’s the first section of Psalm 96. But there’s more here. As we move into the second section of the Psalm, we see the Psalmist actually begin to address the Gentile nations and directly tell them to worship God.
Look at verse 7: “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!” (Psalm 96:7).
“Families of the peoples” is a phrase for the Gentiles. People who were not Jews. People who, at this point in the story, were not included in God’s people. And he tells these Gentiles to “Ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.”
The word “ascribe” basically means to say something is true about someone. So when we “ascribe to the Lord glory and strength,” we are saying that He is a God of glory and strength. We are saying that He is glorious and strong.
Do you see what’s going on here? The Psalmist is teaching the nations how to worship. He’s telling them the things that they should say about God. “Here’s how you do this. Here’s how you worship.” “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name” (v. 8a).
But then don’t miss the second half of verse 8. “…bring and offering, and come into his courts!” In other words, don’t just do that out there by yourselves. Come and join us. Come join God’s people, worshipping Him in the sanctuary with the rest of us.
And this is where Psalm 96 gets really surprising. Because it’s one thing to say that all the earth should worship God. It takes things to a whole other level when you actually invite the Gentiles to bring an offering into the temple courts to worship God there.
And yet this isn’t the only time that we encounter this idea in the Old Testament. The Prophets repeatedly spoke of a future era when the Gentile nations would not only become worshippers of God, but would actually come to worship in the temple. If you’re taking notes, Isaiah chapter 2, early in the chapter, describes this.
And once again, if we tug on this thread, it brings us straight to Jesus. Because Ephesians chapter 2 tells us that these long-promised days have already started, have already come upon us, through the death and resurrection of Christ.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.
“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:11–22).
The prophecies have been fulfilled in a way better way than anyone could have expected. There are no longer two different peoples, but one people of God created as a new humanity in Christ Jesus. We Gentiles are fellow citizens and full members of the household of God. And rather than going to the temple, we are the temple.
So Psalm 96 invites the Gentiles to come worship in the temple courts. What does this mean today, on this side of the cross and empty grave? It means inviting unbelievers to draw near to God by faith in Christ. It means going and making disciples of all nations, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that” Jesus has commanded us (Matthew 28:19–20). It means proclaiming the gospel.
But once again, I hope that you can see that the gospel, the Great Commission, is just a fulfillment of this one great mission that has been there from the beginning.
“Say among the nations!”
Now there’s one final section of Psalm 96, and at first, we might wonder how it connects up to the main flow of thought in the psalm. It starts there in verse 10: “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity’” (Psalm 96:10).
That’s true, but how is that connected with everything else we’ve heard already? Here’s one way of looking at it. You’re one of the first people hearing this Psalm, and what its said about the nations. And you’re thinking, “You know, we’ve got our God, and the nations each have their own gods. And you’re saying that we just need to go and tell them to stop and worship our God instead? That sounds intimidating. That sounds terrifying. What right do I have to do that?”
The answer is that the Lord reigns. He’s the king. This world continues to work each day, it continues to operate on these unchanging principles day in and day out, because God is ruling over Israel, and Moab, and Assyria, and Babylon. And one day, God is going to gather these nations together for judgement. It’s going to happen. So we need to go now and get them ready for that.
Judgement is a scary idea, isn’t it? The idea of God coming to judge the earth sounds frightening. And it will be frightening for those who are God’s enemies. But what’s so important is to see how Psalm 96 pictures this judgement as a happy event. Just look at how verses 11-12 describe this. All of creation—heaven and earth, sea and field—praising their lungs out at the coming reign of God.
All the bells ringing, all the trumpets blowing, as the King finally comes to erase the curse and make all things right.
It shouldn’t surprise us by now to see these same patterns of thought being repeated in the New Testament. What did He say before telling His followers to go make disciples of all nations? “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’” (Matthew 28:18).
In other words, “The Lord reigns!” Jesus reigns with absolute sovereignty over every square inch of planet earth. And because He reigns over this world, we can go to all nations and deliver the kind’s commands to them.
And we do that with an urgency that comes from knowing that judgement day is coming. Just think of how Paul finished his message to the pagans on Mars Hill in Athens. After talking to them about the way that God was the creator and had been ruling over them all along, He told them that God “…commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30–31).
That’s our message. There’s a king. He made everything, and He reigns. He’s coming to judge the peoples in righteousness and justice. And that’s bad news for us, because we’re rebels. We’re the king’s enemies.
But the king has offered us terms of peace. His own Son has suffered and died to pay the penalty for our rebellion, and if we will surrender to the King and trust in what He’s done, we’ll be offered full pardon and a place among His people.
Let’s Do This
So church, that’s Psalm 96. God’s glory among the nations. The invitation to worship Him as a part of His people. The warning and the promise of the coming judgement.
And you know that when we get to the end of a passage like this, we usually ask, “How do we apply this to our lives today? What are we supposed to do with this?”
And the simple answer is that we obey it. We sing to the Lord a new song. We declare His glory among the nations. We ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. We say among the nations, “The Lord reigns!”
As the people of God, this is our mission. This has always been the mission of God’s people, and it will be our mission until Jesus returns. The mission is why we’re here. And Psalm 96 calls us once again to be obedient to the mission. To take our place in the mission of proclaiming God’s glory among the nations.
As a church, we can never afford to loose sight of the mission. Without the mission, we have nothing. J.D. Greear has said, “Without the mission, the church is not the church. It is just a group of disobedient Christians hanging out.”
I don’t know about you, but I am not interested in being a part of a group of disobedient Christians hanging out. I want to be a part of a church. And that means we must embrace and obey the mission again and again and again.
As I was thinking this week about what it looks like for us to be obedient to the mission, I was reminded of the fact that we don’t live in a Christian country any more. In fact, Canada is one of the hardest places in the world right now in terms of the growth of the gospel. We are surrounded by people each day who don’t know and don’t care about God and His truth.
So being faithful to the mission means that every one of us who follows Jesus needs to wake up from the dream of a Christian Canada and see ourselves as missionaries—here in our own culture.
We’ll never be faithful in declaring His glory among the nations if we’re not faithful to declare His glory among this nation, or among the peoples from many nations who now live here in Canada.
But that’s just the start. Because there are so many nations out there still waiting to be engaged with the gospel. And so, if we’re going to be a church on mission, there will be a constant flow going out from here of people and money going out to the nations.
This year, we’re going to have some opportunities to be a part of that. For example, Jennifer W. is headed to Togo this fall for several months and we as a church were able to give her a financial gift to help cover some of her expenses.
And that money came from you, as you put it in the offering plate or emailed it in with e-Transfers or whatever. And I happen to know she still has some more costs to cover, so maybe you can be a part of that. Financial partnership is a very significant way we can partner with the mission. It’s something we need to budget for.
And I’ll never stop reminding us that each of us can’t afford to ask the question, “Why not me? Why should I not go?” As you ask that question, you may find that you have a good and a godly reason for staying right where you are. And praise God if that’s the case. But what if you don’t? What if there is no reason why you shouldn’t go? Would you obey the call of Psalm 96? Would you let yourself be bothered by the nations who are not giving God the worship He deserves? Would you be willing to say “Here I am, send me”?
One last very practical suggestion here. I know all of this can all sound so big and intimidating and even paralyzing.
But I want to recommend a very easy and very practical way to at least start to get your heart in tune with the global mission, and get a glimpse of what it actually looks like to be a part of it, whether you are a sender or a goer.
It’s as easy as walking out of this room, going over to the library right on the other side of this wall, and looking on the top shelf at a set of DVDs called “Dispatches from the Front.” There’s ten of them and these are really well-made documentaries about the present advance of the gospel in some of the hardest places on earth.
Do you want to see what Psalm 96 looks like in action? Do you want to have your heart stirred by the real-life mission going on around the world today? Take one of these home today. And maybe see what God might do in your own heart as a result.