Celebrating the King

December 23, 2018 ()

Bible Text: Psalm 98 |


Celebrating the King: Advent in the Psalms | Psalm 98
Andy Lindgren | December 23, 2018

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer together.

Father, we come to you now, Lord, and ask that the next few moments that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. In the name of Jesus we ask these things, Amen.

Even though he was mostly unknown to the world at large during his lifetime, Johann Sebastian Bach is now widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of all time, if not the greatest. Mozart said of him, “Now there is music from which a man can learn something.” Beethoven, making a pun out of the fact that Bach is the German word for brook, said, “Not Brook, but Ocean should be his name.” Brahms said, “Study Bach. There you will find everything.”

What hasn’t been as well known is that Bach was a serious Christian, with a very God-centered approach to music. One of his most treasured possessions that they found after he died was this three-volume copy of Martin Luther’s German translation of the Bible. He had underlined in it and he had written notes throughout and was known as a Christian who lived with his Bible. He wrote the letters S.D.G. at the end of his church compositions, meaning Soli Deo Gloria, “to the glory of God alone.” Nearly 75 per cent of his approximately 1,000 compositions were written specifically for use in worship.

Ironically, even though he was one of the greatest artists of all time, he seemed to view himself not so much as an artist, but as a Christian who was faithfully exercising his work to the Lord within his own sphere of ministry. He is quoted as saying, “The final aim and reason of all music is nothing other than the glorification of God and the refreshment of the Spirit.”

Bach’s God-centered approach to music came from his immersion in Scripture. He took seriously the exhortation to “sing a new song to the Lord,” having written many such songs. Today we’ll be looking at a psalm that strongly urges us to celebrate our King with song. We’re going to be looking at Psalm 98.

Psalm 98 is a very noisy psalm. It’s also an ecstatic psalm; it’s a happy, joyful psalm. It’s the inspiration behind Isaac Watts hymn “Joy to the World,” which we sang earlier this morning. It urges us to make joyful sounds in response to what God has done, who he is, and what he’s going to do. So let’s look at that text together, Psalm 98.

“Oh sing to the Lord a new song,
for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm
have worked salvation for him.
The Lord has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations.
He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness
to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen
the salvation of our God.
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!
Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.”

This is God’s word.

We’re going to be looking at this in three different sections this morning:

I. Celebrating His Past Salvation (vv. 1-3)
II. Celebrating His Present Reign (vv. 4-6)
III. Celebrating His Coming Rule (vv. 7-9)

I. Celebrating His Past Salvation

So, let’s start with looking at verses 1 through 3. So, right off the bat in verse 1 the people are urged to sing a new song to God because “he has done marvelous things.” The original language there implies miraculous things or supernatural things, and these supernatural events have worked salvation (or, more literally, victory). He has done supernatural things that have worked a victory.

This includes but is not limited to the exodus, that great, miraculous event when God freed his people from Pharaoh and the power of God’s right hand and his holy arm was seen in supernatural action.

You see, the God of the Bible doesn’t just give a system of teaching. He actually acts in history. He does things; there’s a historicity to the victory that he accomplishes. This is, of course, seen from the beginning of Scripture to the end. In the New Testament, the apostle Paul made the forceful claim to the Corinthians that if the historical event of the physical body of Jesus rising from the dead did not happen, then both his preaching and their faith were for nothing.

God has also worked his salvation publicly. In verse 2, “He has made known his salvation; he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of nations.” In verse 3 we read that “all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation…”

So, God not only created the universe to show forth his glory, but he also saves in such a way that his glory is seen, that the wonderful reality of who he is would be made known, it would be public.

God has also worked his salvation lovingly and faithfully. He undertook these miraculous actions because, as verse 3 tells us, “He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.”

Now, we know that Israel did not win the “best nation” contest. God says throughout the Old Testament, over and over, that it was out of sheer grace that he chose to make a name for himself through the children of Abraham. In Deuteronomy 7:7-8 we read, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” As Tim Keller says about this passage, “God is essentially saying to them, ‘I love you because I love you.’”

Now, in the Psalms and throughout the rest of Scripture we find this growing hope for a second exodus to occur. The Psalms have been called a “prayer book for for a people in exile.” The readers of the Psalms comforted themselves with the truth that the God who initiated that first exodus from Egypt would initiate a new exodus that would see their God worshipped properly and the world rightfully restored.

God brought judgment upon the people of Israel for their sin, and he exiled them from the land he had promised to give them. With no physical temple, the Psalms became a literary temple of sorts, where they would meet with God, remember who he is, and look forward to what he had in store.

This longing for their exodus, then, was further developed by the prophets, especially Isaiah, who, using some language from Psalm 98, lends some specificity for this hope for a second exodus. In Isaiah 51:9-11 we read, “Awake, awake, put on strength, O arm of the Lord; awake as in the days of old, the generations of long ago. Was it not you who cut Rahab [meaning Egypt] in pieces, who pierced the dragon? Was it not you who dried up the sea, the waters of the great deep, who made the depths of the sea a way for the redeemed to pass over? And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

The cry for God’s arm to wake up again, to continue his works of salvation and victory, will lead to singing and everlasting celebration. It will lead to worship. God’s salvation is always for the ultimate purpose of worship. It was for worship that the first exodus occurred. Pharaoh was to let the people go so that God’s people could go into the wilderness for the purpose of worshipping him. And it is for worship that the second exodus would occur. There was a greater purpose for the Israelites’ freedom from slavery; it was so they could enter into the delightful wonder of worshiping the God who made them and saved them. They were not only saved from slavery, but they were saved to worship. There was an end goal in mind.

Now, when we arrive at the beginning of the New Testament, Mary alludes to this very psalm and others like it when it dawns on her that she is on the brink of a new exodus. The angel told her that this baby conceived by the Holy Spirit would be given the throne of David and rule an everlasting kingdom, so when visiting her relative Elizabeth, Mary did exactly what the psalm says to do, and as Hannah, mother of Samuel, did before her, when God worked miraculously in her life; she sang a new song to the Lord. We have it recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55.

Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

The sight of his saving arm caused her to magnify God, and that doesn’t mean to imagine him as bigger than he is, but it’s to begin to see him as large and wonderful as he truly is, bringing focus on the majesty of who he is as revealed through what he was doing.

We see this psalm echoed again, after the birth of Jesus occurred, in the account of Simeon, in Luke 2:25-32.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation
that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.’”

God works real victory, observable salvation, and he invites us to sing about it.

II. Celebrating His Present Reign

This brings us to verses 4 through 6, celebrating his present reign. The psalmist goes on,

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises!
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody!
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord!”

So, in verse 4, now all of the earth, all of the nations that have witnessed the saving act of God for Israel, are now summoned to celebrate him in worship. His work through Israel was meant to spread out to the other nations as well, as they see him as their rightful ruler and king. That’s the progression: Israel first, then the world. His saving work was designed to create true worship where it didn’t exist before.

Remember, Jesus in fact told us that God is seeking people who will worship him in spirit and in truth. He’s seeking that; he’s looking for it. This one true God, he rules the world. The God of Israel made the rest of the world as well, and it’s rightfully his, and he’s on the throne, no matter how things may look at the present time. This is reason to celebrate.

We also see in this section all of these sounds of worship. If you notice, things are getting louder now. What started off as a new song grows into a breaking forth. So now it’s an eruption of praise.

The sounds of celebration not only get louder, but they are more varied. Different instruments are now being used in the presence of Yahweh. These same instruments were used in Israel’s worship in the temple.

If you haven’t noticed, the human race has a bit of a thing for music. Music is a wonderful ability that God has given to people. Musical instruments make an early appearance in the Bible, in the book of Genesis; they show up in chapter 4. In our dominion over the earth, God gave humans the ability to shape wood and metal and other materials and to interact with it in such a way to create instruments.

I’m inclined to agree with Martin Luther, who said, “Next to the word of God, music deserves the highest praise. The gift of language combined with the gift of song was given to man that he should proclaim the word of God through music.” Singing, of course, has always been essential component in Christian worship.

In the early second century, in Rome, there was a civil servant named Pliny, and he was writing a letter reporting to the emperor at the time, named Trajan, about his progress in trying to squelch this new thing called Christianity that was infecting the empire. In it he writes what we have as the earliest description of a Christian worship service viewed from the outside world. He wrote, “They were accustomed to meet on a fixed day, before dawn, and sing responsively a hymn to Christ, as to a god.” They sang, they were singing.

I wasn’t one of those teenagers that was in much of a hurry to drive. I know many of my peers were, but I wasn’t. Part of that was just plain nervousness at it, but the other was something very special that happened in my life as a teenager. The Lord really did something special in my heart, and I discovered the joy and the wonder of worshipping him. So when we were on long drives, I wanted nothing more than to sit in the back seat with my blue Kenwood CD player. (CDs, for some of you younger kids, they’re discs that look a lot like DVDs, they spin, and they make music, before the days of iPods and iPhones.) I had a blue Kenwood CD player my dad got for me for Christmas, and the little clip in it was broken, so it wouldn’t stay shut. You had to keep it shut in order for a disc to play. So my dad made this little Velcro strap to go over the edge so it would stay shut when it played.

I have these memories of sitting in the back seat with my headphones on, holding my blue Kenwood CD player and entering the presence of God in the back seat of the car. Worship is the very thing we were created for, and I remember discovering this experience of worshiping God with song, with music, and it brought my lifelong love of music to an entirely different level.

You see, where God is felt to be present, musical celebration is a natural response. As A.W. Tozer put it, “Music is both an expression and a source of pleasure. Heaven is full of music because it is the place where the pleasures of holy love abound.”

The psalmist also urges us to make these sounds joyfully. There’s joy in worship. That leads us to ask the question, why is joy tied so closely to worship? This has been mused on by many great Christian thinkers throughout the centuries, and I’m just going to look at some insights that C.S. Lewis had on this subject that I think are very accurate.

One reason is that we meet God himself in worship. C.S. Lewis was an unbeliever, an atheist, for a good section of his life, and he really struggled with this idea of a God who would command worship of himself; it sounded egotistical and it just sounded wrong, for God to demand that he be worshipped; until C.S. Lewis realized that it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates himself to men. When we praise God, God heightens our awareness of his presence. This activity of praising completes our joy.

Lewis further noted how we as people just can’t help talking about things we enjoy; it’s just part of human nature. In fact, he went so far as to say that our delight in what we enjoy doesn’t feel complete until we’re able to express it.

I mean, think about it. Have you ever heard a song or read a book or gone on vacation somewhere or seen a movie, or some other experience that you just could not wait for someone you knew to experience it so that you could admire it with him, to the point where you would almost actually pay them money or make a deal with them or something so that they could experience it, so that you could talk with them about it and say, “Yes, wasn’t that awesome?” or, “Yes, did you see that spot?” It’s an attempt to further our own happiness in it.

Interestingly enough, we see this, actually, in Scripture, in Isaiah 6. Remember when Isaiah has his vision of God high and lifted up? The worshipping seraphim, remember, they were saying, “Holy, holy, holy,” but the text notes they were actually saying, “Holy, holy, holy,” to one another. They were pointing out God’s holiness to each other.

Lewis also points out that God is the worthiest object of praise, therefore creates the highest joy when praised. He said, “The worthier the object, the more intense this delight will be. If it were possible for a created soul fully (I mean, up to the full measure conceivable in a finite being) to appreciate, that is, to love and delight in the worthiest object of all, and simultaneously at every moment to give this delight perfect expression, then that soul would be in supreme beatitude.” The call to worship is the call to enter into the deepest joy imaginable.

Notice that in verses 4 through 6, while it’s full of all these musical descriptions, the Lord is always mentioned as the reason for it all. He is the worthiest of all beings, this Lord, who is the King of those he saves.

So we should examine ourselves this morning. Is the presence of God the greatest joy and wonder in our lives? Is there evidence in our emotional lives that God is a living reality to us? Does God reign supreme in that secret place deep down inside where we go to escape the pressures of life and think about and long for what we really want most of all? Are we being shaped for an eternity in God’s presence by worshipping him now? Maybe you’re a Christian and this was true at one point in your life, but you’ve let the privilege of worship become familiar to you.

Remember who it is you have access to. Carve out time to spend in his presence. You can access him anytime and anywhere, like Paul did when he worshipped in the middle of writing letters to the churches. He would be writing, then he would stop and just start worshipping Jesus; then he would go back to what he was writing. The presence of God was real to him, it was near to him, and he engaged in it.

Or, when he was in the jail in the middle of the night with Silas and they just started worshipping the Lord, no matter what the circumstances around them. We have that same access to the very same God.

Or maybe you’re someone that isn’t part of a church regularly. You choose not to meet with other Christians, you aren’t part of a church, but you say to yourself that you worship God frequently on your own when you see a pretty sunset or when you’re out in the beauty of nature or when you’re out hunting or whatever, that’s your time with God, that’s your time with him. Well, if that’s the case and you’re claiming that you’re a Christian, you’re either walking in disobedience to your master, who saved you for the purpose of worshipping him with a community of other redeemed believers, or you’re fooling yourself and you aren’t really saved at all and you’re worshipping a god of your own imagination. If you don’t get your deepest joy from worshipping God, you will seek it elsewhere. That’s that constant temptation to idolatry that kept tripping up Israel.

III. Celebrating His Coming Rule

This leads us to verses 7 through 9, celebrating his coming rule.

“Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
the world and those who dwell in it!
Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together
before the Lord, for he comes
to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the peoples with equity.”

So in verse 7 in this progression we have in this psalm of this noise level, things start to get really crazy. Now, not only is Israel singing of their victorious Savior - so, we have Israel singing a new song to God, and not only are the nations all over the world breaking forth and joining in, but now nature itself is roaring. The sea roars and all the sea creatures within it. Then the rivers start to actually clap their hands, in verse 8. Then even the hills start singing in harmony; they sing for joy together.

That begs the question, why does nature care about God coming? Well, it’s because nature was created to glorify God, and hasn’t been able to do that as freely as intended ever since sin came into the world. While only humans were created in God’s image, with a unique capacity to worship him with intelligence and with moral action, we have in common with nature that we are both physical creations made by God to show forth his glory. We hold that in common with nature.

Now, nature does that by being exactly what God created it to be. God made a tree, and it’s a tree. It stands there, it sucks in water, it grows leaves. The sea does it by being the sea, by rolling in, tide after tide, year after year, century after century. But humans, we’re the problem. We don’t do that by not being what God created us to be in our disobedience to his design. He created us to worship him above all, and we don’t. We choose everything else in creation above him.

N.T. Wright points out that there is a tension in the Psalms. There’s this sheer delight in the physical world God created. I mean, go through the psalms and look at every time it mentions creation. The psalmists were ecstatic at the physical world God made! So there’s this tension between the sheer delight in the physical world he created and the longing for that world to be made right again by God. It’s beautiful, it shows forth his glory, but it’s not fully what it was meant to be yet.

The apostle Paul, of course, tells us this in Romans 8:19-21. “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

So, once the children of God are glorified, creation will be let loose to fully be what it was always meant to be. That’s why it’s waiting on believers to get there first. We have to be the first ones through that door, because nature’s fate is tied to that of God’s children, his image-bearers, his representatives.

One of my favorite illustrations of this was the 1991 Disney animated adaptation of the classic fairytale Beauty and the Beast. Remember in the beginning of the story there’s this prince over a castle in a kingdom, and out of his selfishness he gets himself cursed. Not only is he cursed, but his castle is cursed, the grounds, the subjects, the servants - everyone’s cursed. The only way this curse will be broken is by a heart that is transformed by love.

It happens at the end of the film, and when it happens it radiates out through him. He has to get the curse lifted first, and once the curse is lifted it spreads out to the rest of the castle, to the rest of the subject. What was dark is now light, what was inanimate is not animate and living again.

The psalmist envisions that day when that will happen for real. He envisions the day when nature itself will link arms with redeemed humanity and joyful song, with sounds that would make Bach weep.

Derek Kidner points out that this was even foreshadowed in Jesus’s earthly ministry. Remember, Jesus was entering into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and people were worshipping him as the King. They were singing praises to him as King. The Pharisees told Jesus to make those worshippers quiet down, and remember what he told them? Luke 19:40, “‘I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out.’”

But God’s not only coming to set creation right, but ultimately humanity as well. There will be justice done. In verse 9, the Lord is “coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness and the peoples with equity.” God himself will come and bring judgment and restore harmony. The longing for God to put right what once went wrong runs throughout the overarching story of Scripture.

We looked at how it showed up in Mary’s song of worship at this new act of God that he was doing that was somehow connected with this life that was now growing inside of her, and in Simeon’s words of praise as he held the Lord’s Messiah in his feeble arms. These were people who had the hope of the psalms ingrained in them, and it shows up in how readily the quotations from the psalms were on their lips.

We all know what it feels like to long for justice to be done in the world. This longing makes its way into our cultural stories. We love stories where wrongs are put right, and we’ll give our time and our money to enjoy those stories. For some of you, maybe, that was John Wayne bringing justice to a wild frontier town. One of my favorites was, when I was a teenager, I read a Batman story, believe it or not, that really epitomized this idea for me.

It was a story that you say, “Okay, this is kind of silly. This is a guy who dresses up like a bat to try to scare criminals, and this is kind of ridiculous.” But the author of it really tried to think, “How can I add some literary depth, some psychological realism, to this character?”

What he did was he addressed this question: If Bruce Wayne was so passionate about fighting crime, why wouldn’t he become a policeman or a judge or a lawyer or something, and go that route? The answer that the author gave was that his city was corrupt beyond saving. The police force, the judges, the lawyers, everyone, most of them, the majority of them, were corrupt. They were taking payoffs from the mobs so that there was no justice.

So, out of desperation, Bruce Wayne left Gotham City, traveled the world, made himself a weapon against injustice and crime, and came back to uproot the entire corrupt structure of the city. He gave them a warning. He told the corrupt leaders of that city, “Ladies and gentlemen, you have eaten well. You have eaten Gotham’s wealth, its spirit, and your feast is nearly over. From this moment on, none of you are safe.” He delivered a warning message to them.

We’re longing for that to get done in the world. There’s widespread corruption, there’s widespread disease in this world, and it needs a complete overhaul. We live in between the “already” and the “not yet,” or what Scripture calls the last days. God has acted, but he’s not finished acting yet. We’re hoping for something that seems impossible, a real-life happy ending that goes on forever. How will these hopes be fulfilled?

In Isaiah 11:1-10, he talks about an agent of judgment that will lead this path towards consummation. He writes,

“There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.
And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him,
the Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and might,
the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the cobra,
and the weaned child shall put his hand on the adder's den.
They shall not hurt or destroy
in all my holy mountain;
for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
as the waters cover the sea.

“In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples - of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.”

So you have this picture here. From the wreckage of the judged people Israel, a little shoot will appear from the stump of Jesse, and he will defend the meek and destroy the wicked. He will bring peace among man and beast, restore nature to its rightful order, and cover the earth with the knowledge of the Lord.

This, of course, is the same figure we looked at a few weeks ago in Psalm 2, the Lord’s anointed King, the Lord’s Messiah, the Lord’s Son, who will break the rebellious nations like pottery, with a rod of iron, whose wrath is quickly kindled, but who blesses all those who take refuge in him. This agent of judgment, agent of God’s consummation, is Jesus. That’s why Mary and Simeon and the others couldn’t help but sing about it.

Jesus said of himself in the gospel of John, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all my honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.” Elsewhere in John, Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Our celebration of Christmas can become so domesticated that we forget that the baby in the manger was the terror of demons. Remember, the birth of Jesus was such a dangerous event to the powers of darkness that Satan worked through Herod to try to murder him right off the bat. Keep in mind that that same baby who gripped Mary’s finger that night in Bethlehem would one day be the Man of Sorrows being forced to grip a reed as a mock scepter in Jerusalem. His kingship was mocked as he was tortured to death. But even while his pain-clenched fist was forced open by a Roman soldier to hold that reed, the angels were preparing his true scepter, which he will grip in his hand when he returns to bring his just rule to his creation.

The good news of the gospel is that through Jesus we take refuge from the judgment of God in God himself! To paraphrase Augustine, we enter in through the wounds of Christ to sing songs of love to our God.

That brings us to anticipating the King. When Simeon saw Jesus, he rejoiced, because when he looked at him he recognized that this was what he was waiting for his whole life. What about you? What do you see when you look at Jesus? Do you see him for who he really is? Is that happening now in your life? Do you see your life’s joy and hope when you look at him? Are you giving him reign in your soul now as you long for his reign to be established? By faith and repentance, you can.

The paradox of Christmas is that the Judge came to be judged in our place so that when he returns to unleash his judgment and cleanse sin from his universe we can safely pass through that judgment and worship our King in joy forever.

Jesus, speaking of that day when he would come again as God’s agent of judgment, said in Matthew 13:40-43, “Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of this kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. And the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.”

We will either be rejoicing that his kingdom is come in its fullness on that day, or we will be despairing that the kingdom that we’ve made ourselves is being swept away to make room for his kingdom. We will either find ourselves part of the solution or part of the problem, find ourselves among the weeds that are being gathered to be destroyed or shining like the sun. Our response to Jesus now determines that.

As C.S. Lewis reminds us, when God comes to judge, that’s it. That’s why he’s delaying his judgment, out of mercy and compassion, that as many would come to him as possible. There are no more chances to decide whose side we’ll be on on that day. As Lewis said, “When the author walks onto the stage, it’s a sign that the play is over; and when God walks onto the stage of the history of the universe at the end of the age, that will be it.”

When the news was announced at Jesus’s first coming, Mary rejoiced while Herod despaired. Mary rejoiced because she was on the right side of the judgment, waiting for God to show his mighty arm of salvation; and Herod despaired because he was sitting in Jesus’s seat, claiming the kingship for himself.

There will ultimately be either sounds of misery or sounds of celebration coming from us forever. God will set everything right, and because of the action God initiated on that first Christmas we have the opportunity to be a part of that new creation by submitting ourselves to the true King now, to send our sins ahead of us to judgment. If you haven’t done that, will you place your life under the authority of Jesus this morning by repenting of your sin and placing your faith in him?

In closing, I want to look at Revelation 5, as we get a glimpse of the fulfillment of Psalm 98, of all of creation celebrating the King for his victory. Listen to these words of hope. This is the apostle John speaking of the vision, the unveiling that he sees.

“Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming with a loud voice, ‘Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?’ And no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth was able to open the scroll or to look into it, and I began to weep loudly because no one was found worthy to open the scroll or to look into it. And one of the elders said to me, ‘Weep no more; behold, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals.’

“And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four 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 [just like the psalmist is exhorting us to], 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…’” There’s that historical act of victory that calls for celebration.
“‘...from every tribe and language and people and nation [there’s the worldwide spread of worship as a result],
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.’

“Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice,

‘Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!’

“And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them [here’s the worship of all creation again], saying,

‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!’

“And the four living creatures said, ‘Amen!’ and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

As we see later in the book of Revelation, the King we worship will one day join heaven and earth back together again. The one on the throne tells us that he is making all things new. So as the author of Hebrews put it, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and therefore “let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

Let your heart fly into his presence as you live a lifestyle of worship and sing songs of joy as you wait for the day when the King will return and finish what he started. Let’s pray.

Father, we see in your word this morning that you are worthy of all worship, Lord, and I pray that we would be faithful in being worshippers of you. Let us discover the joy and the privilege of worship. We long for the day when what you started at Christmas and at the cross and at the tomb will be finished up, Lord, where there will be justice all over the earth, where you will be rightly seen and your rule will be spread throughout all of creation. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.