In this final message in the series "Psalms: Thinking and Feeling With God," I want to strike two notes: singing and nations—music and missions—for the glory of God. These are what stand out to me from Psalm 96. How shall we think and feel with God about nations and about singing, and how are they related in this psalm and in the age to come? And how are they related to Jesus?
Here is the way I am thinking about the sequence of these messages. After the overview from Psalm 1 to establish that the Psalms are God’s word and that Psalms are songs, and therefore they aim to shape our thinking and our feeling, we looked at spiritual depression and how to be discouraged well (Psalm 42). Then we looked at guilt and regret and how to be brokenhearted well (Psalm 51). Then, coming out of that discouragement and regret, we rose into gratitude and praise and blessing the Lord (Psalm 103).
Then last time we saw that we are often bitterly opposed and sometimes horribly treated and that the heart cries out for justice and for the punishment of our adversaries (Psalm 69). And we found relief from this rage in the assurance that the imprecatory psalms will indeed be fulfilled, and all wrongs will be duly punished, either on the cross of Christ for those who repent, or in hell, for those who don’t. Vengeance is mine, says the Lord. As for you, love your enemy. God will handle those who sin against you. Nobody gets away with anything in the universe.
Jesus Christ has been the key and goal of all these Psalms. They are not complete without him. So it will be today.
Made for Global Purposes
So now with our anger relieved, and our sense of justice sustained, and our hearts full of gratefulness that as far as the east is from the west so far are our transgressions removed from us (Psalm 103:12), and our mouths and souls full of blessing to God for all his goodness, what could be missing? Where do the Psalms take us finally? The answer is that God has made you for global purposes. God has made you for something very large.
Striking the Nations Note
You may think that, when discouragement is past and guilt is relieved and anger is assuaged and your mouth is full of blessing, the reason for your existence has been attained. In one sense, you would be right. There will be nothing greater than blessing the Lord with overflowing praise and gratitude.
But there is something missing. God did not make known his ways or reveal his glory or display his marvelous works for you alone, or for your ethnic group alone. He did it with a view to the nations—all the nations, not political states, but nations like the Cherokee Nation, the Navaho Nation, the Waorani Nation. “Peoples” the Psalm calls them. So the first note we will strike is the nations note.
For the Nations
Trace with me the focus on nations in this Psalm. The psalmist says that God’s people should do at least three things for the nations.
1. Declare God’s Glory
First, declare to them the truth about God’s glory and works and salvation. Verses 2–3: “Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” Tell of his salvation, declare his glory, declare his marvelous works. Do this “among the nations.” Do this “among all the peoples.” All of them. Leave none out. Verse 10: Sum up your declaration with the message of the kingship of God over the nations. “Say among the nations, ‘The Lord reigns!’”
2. Summon the Nations to Join In
Second: Summon the nations to join the people of God in ascribing glory to God and singing praise to him. Verse 7: “Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength!” Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord, all the earth!” (Psalms 96:1). So, don’t just tell the earth the facts about the greatness and the glory of God; bid them to join you in praising him. Call for their conversion. All the nations must bow before the one true God of Israel, whom we know now as the Father of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.
3. Warn Them of Judgment
Third, don’t just declare his glory to them, and don’t just summon them to join in ascribing glory to him, but warn them that the reason they must do this is that they are depending on false gods and judgment is coming on all the nations. Verse 5: “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Verse 10: “Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the peoples with equity.” Verse 13: “He comes, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.” (Psalms 96:13).
In other words, when he says, “Sing to the Lord, all the earth,” and, “Declare . . . his marvelous works among all the peoples,” and, “He is to be feared above all gods,” and “Tremble before him, all the earth,” and, “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,” he really means all. The God of the Psalms lays claim on the allegiance of every people. All of them—in all their unimaginable diversity of culture and religion.
Every Nation, All the Peoples
Do not, the psalm implies, leave out any nation, any people, any family—all of them must convert to the true and living God and abandon all their other gods. Do not let any unloving trend of multiculturalism make you shrink back from the loving work of calling every people from every other religion to repent and ascribe all glory to the one and only true and living God.
Listen to this (not from Psalm 96) and see if you can guess where it is coming from:
“I will praise you among the Gentiles (nations), and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles (nations), with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles (nations), and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles (nations); in him will the Gentiles (nations) hope.” (Romans 15:9–12)
Those are quotes from the Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah piled up by the apostle Paul to support what? The coming of Jesus as the Messiah for all nations. Here’s the context (verses 8–9): “I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised [the Jews] to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles (the nations) might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written . . .” Then come the Old Testament promises summoning all the nations to praise God for his mercy, namely, for the work of Jesus Christ on the cross in dying for sinners and making mercy possible for rebel, Gentile sinners like us.
Made to Sing of Glory
How should you feel about this emphasis on all the nations, and all the peoples in Psalm 96? And in the New Testament? God is not telling us this for the purposes of feeling exhausted, but for the purposes of feeling exhilarated. And I mean both missionary goers and missionary senders—all of us who believe in the one true God, revealed most fully in the God-man Jesus Christ.
Why do I say this? Look at verse 1. This missionary impulse to all the nations is flowing from singing and calling for singing. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth!” This is a singing mission. This is the way you feel when your team has won the Super Bowl or the World Cup or the cross-town rivalry—only a thousand times greater. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” We are speaking of glory. We are speaking of marvelous works, not boring works. Nor ordinary works. We have tasted and seen that this God is greater to know than all other greatness. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised” (verse 4). We are exhilarated to know him and sing to him and call the world to sing with us to him.
You were made for this. I mean all of you who say from the heart, “Jesus is Lord.” When you confess Jesus as the Lord of the universe, you sign up for significance beyond all your dreams. I mean businessmen, homemakers, students. To belong to Jesus is to embrace nations for which he died and which he will rule. Your heart was made for this, and there will always be a serious or mild sickness in your soul until you embrace this global calling.
The Largest Cause of All
Listen to J. Campbell White, the first secretary of the Layman’s Missionary Movement in the early 1900’s. This movement was born among businessmen who were captured by a holy ambition to get behind what God was doing in the massive Student Volunteer Movement. Here is what the main leader among laymen said:
Most men are not satisfied with the permanent output of their lives. Nothing can wholly satisfy the life of Christ within his followers except the adoption of Christ’s purpose toward the world he came to redeem. Fame, pleasure and riches are but husks and ashes in contrast with the boundless and abiding joy of working with God for the fulfillment of his eternal plans. The men who are putting everything into Christ’s undertaking are getting out of life its sweetest and most priceless rewards. (J. Campbell White, “The Layman’s Missionary Movement,” in Perspectives on the World Christian Movement: A Reader, 225)
How should you feel about the global purpose of Jesus Christ to be glorified among all the nations? You should feel like this cause is the consummation of your significance in life. Many other things are important in life. But this is the largest cause of all. Every follower of the Lord of Lords and King of Kings embraces this purpose and finds the consummation of his reason for living in being a part of this great purpose of God to be glorified among all the nations.
Stunning Shifts Among the Nations
And what is the situation among the nations today? Stunning shifts are taking place as God gathers his elect from all the nations and sends his church to all the nations. Europe and America are not the center of gravity in world Christianity any longer. The center is shifting south and east. Latin America, Africa, and Asia are experiencing phenomenal growth and are becoming the great sending churches. Read about this in Philip Jenkins’ books The Next Christendom and The New Faces of Christianity.
But I would plead that all of you become familiar with Joshua Project and People Groups. Here you find out who the nations, in the biblical sense, actually are and how many there are and how reached or unreached with the gospel they are. Joshua Project says there are 1,569 unengaged people groups (no missionaries or church), and 6,747 least reached groups (fewer than 2% evangelical). How I thank God that there are people doing this difficult work of research to help us know the task that remains before us. Go to these sites, and start learning what the global situation is. And then dream how your life as goer and sender might be more fully involved in declaring his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.
How should you feel about the nations of the world? A passion for their salvation and a thrill that God rules over them all and calls us to be his emissaries to them all with the best news in the world, and that he will have a people of his own from all the nations, singing to him and ascribing glory and strength to his Son. You were made for this kind of joy. All the other joys of the Psalms, all the other emotions of the psalms, are taking us here: the glory of God celebrated and sung by all the peoples of the earth.
Which brings us to our second note to strike in this message: singing.
Striking the Singing Note
Flying like a banner over all the emphasis on the nations in this psalm are verses 1 and 2, and they are all about singing. “Oh sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth! Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.” Why would you begin a psalm about the global reach of God’s kingdom and the duty to “tell of his salvation from day to day” and to “declare his glory among the nations”—why would you begin such a psalm with the command to sing to the Lord a new song?
The answer is simple: You can’t summon the nations to sing if you are not singing. And we are summoning the nations to sing. Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord all the earth.” Verse 11 says, “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice.” Even nature is being summoned to be glad. And singing is the consummation of that gladness and that rejoicing. This psalm is calling us to spread a passion for the glory of God in all things for the joy all peoples. And then to summon them to ascribe this glory to God in songs. This is the hardest and the happiest business in the world.
And you can’t summon the nations to sing if you are not singing. So let me suggest why in this global missionary context the psalm would stress singing new songs. Notice that these new songs are “to the Lord.” Not just about the Lord. Verse 1: “Sing to the Lord a new song.” It’s not wrong to sing about the Lord. The Psalms do it all the time. But when new songs are being written and composed and sung “to the Lord,” something is happening in the church. It’s a sign of unusual life and vibrancy. People are not just living off the spiritual capital of previous generations, but they are dealing vibrantly with the living God and their songs are being sung to him. He is real. He is personal. He is known. He is precious. He is present. Worship is more intense and more personal and more engaging.
A New Song in Our Day
That is what the psalm calls for, and that is what has been happening during my entire adult life. Around the world there is a new song and a new vibrancy and a new personal engagement in singing to the Lord. And the really astonishing thing in our time is the way this awakening of singing to the Lord with new songs has such a strong global and missionary flavor. To my knowledge singing has never been more at the forefront of missions as it is today.
God is doing something wonderful in the fulfillment of Psalm 96. It is far bigger than any one church, or any one ethnic group, or any one region of the world. The global church is singing—singing to the Lord, singing new songs, and singing about God’s Lordship over the nations.
And I would simply say: Don’t miss what God is doing. Be a part of it. Get the nations on your heart. Think rightly about God’s global purposes. Feel deeply about his marvelous works. Sing with all your heart to the Lord. And be a part of summoning the nations to join you.
The Center of Our Singing
And may the center of our singing be the same as the center of the new song we will sing in the age to come, namely, the song of the Lamb who was slain.
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 priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)