A sermon by Harry Goodhew
I was recently reading Psalm 149. The opening words caught my attention; especially verse 2. This is how the Psalm begins: “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful.”
And then verse 2: “Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.”
So I traced the words translated as “be glad” and “rejoice” through the rest of Old Testament. I was surprised, surprised at just how often God encouraged his people to be festive and exuberant, and to rejoice. God apparently delights in bringing joy into the lives of His children.
Now, without doubt, the Psalms grapple with the dark issues of life; pain and defeat, failure, and the feeling of being abandoned by God. But joy lies at the root of God’s desire for His people. He provides reasons to sing, to be glad, to praise and to rejoice.
So, let’s look at some of those reasons.
As verse two of this Psalm makes clear the chief reason for joy for the Psalmist is God himself. Gladness and joy flow from the knowledge that God Almighty is Israel’s Maker and King. That knowledge provides the basis for confidence, hope and joy in any and all circumstances.
God is Israel’s Maker in two senses. First, He is the One who brought them into existence just as He has brought everyone and everything else that exists into being. As we say in the Nicene Creed “We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.” The recognition of God as the Creator and Sustainer of all was the bedrock of Israel’s faith and it is of our faith as Christians. We celebrate that we live in a creation which is not a chaos. It has features that are perplexing and sometimes terrifying: all of which reminds us of our estrangement from our Creator and that this present creation is not permanent, one day it will be transfigured into something even more beautiful and wonderful, the permanent home of righteousness and peace.
But there was a second sense in which Israel celebrated God as their Maker. He it was who called Abraham to himself and constituted his descendants as the people of God. This privilege was ultimately for the blessing of all human beings. Israel was to be the vehicle for bringing blessing and salvation to God’s estranged and fractured world. The Psalms are the songs and prayers of those who have been made the children of God by adoption and grace. In that sense we have joined that blessed company through Jesus with the same privileges and responsibilities.
When writing to the Ephesians Paul would labour the point that
He – the Messiah – came and preached peace to you who were far away – that is, Gentiles – and peace to those who were near – Jews. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you – Gentiles – are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him – that is, Jesus – the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (Ephesians 2:17ff)
In short, He is our Maker. He has made us his children by drawing us to Christ. As Paul wrote in the earlier part of this chapter “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
As well as drawing joy and gladness from knowing that God was their Maker, Israelites, like the Psalmist, rejoiced that God was their King. If being the Maker of all, and in particular, the Maker of his people as his redeemed and ransomed people, gives us assurance of God’s ultimate sovereignty over all that is, then the fact that he is the King of his people is the assurance that in all things “God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The Kingship of God, his sovereignty, his rule over all things and in all things, is as foundational for a firm and joyful faith as knowing that He has brought all things into being.
The kingship of God, his rule over all and in all, was the theme of the preaching of Jesus and of those who followed him. Jesus announced the rule of God. He was not thereby implying that God was not always king and sovereign but that the time when God was moving to bring heaven and earth together in a new creation was breaking into our sad and lost world in Jesus and what he would do in his death and resurrection.
The prayer Jesus taught us to pray begins with this fact. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”
Jesus, in a parable, explained, “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.
“The owner’s servants, he said, came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ “An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them.Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”
Jesus explained the parable by saying,“The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one,and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil.They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.
The Kingship of God is the foundation of confidence and joy now and in that last day when Jesus returns
Life can sometimes be very sweet. It can also be very bitter and distressing. Is it really possible to know joy in the good times in life and also in the less than happy seasons? I think it is. I am not speaking of a gay, carefree, rejoicing but rather of a settled and permanent sense of contentment.
St. Paul knew the joy of the ancient Israelite festivals. He shared in them both as boy and man as an observant Jew. He celebrated God as his Maker and King and no doubt recited this Psalm in synagogue and private prayer. But then something happened. Jesus the promised Messiah of God met him and his life was changed. He now knew God as his Maker, King, and Redeemer in the Lord Jesus. Jesus produced a revolution in his whole way of thinking and living. It was a revolution in his life that introduced him to a settled contentment, a contentment that would joyfully manage all the ups and downs of his subsequent existence. Jesus brought joy.
When the Philippian Church sent him some relief he wrote to express his appreciation in words that are often quoted: “I’ve learned to be content with what I have. I know how to do without, and I know how to cope with plenty. In every possible situation I’ve learned the hidden secret of being full and hungry, of having plenty and doing without, and it’s this: I have strength for everything in the one who gives me power.”
A settled conviction concerning the Sovereign rule of God in Jesus as his Maker, King and Redeemer allowed him to enjoy equanimity of spirit and a glad contentment in all and every situation. Joy can be the transporting and exhilarating sensation that sweeps someone up in an ecstasy of delight. It can also be the settled and sustaining sense of being maintained constantly by God himself. The former seems, most often, to be a transitory and passing experience. The latter, as I have said before, a settled, long-term, and sustaining sense of the overruling providence of our Heavenly Father. That conviction brings its own sense of joy even in the worst situations. It lies like a vast subterranean lake providing hidden supplies of life-giving water for the earth above when that surface is seared by the fires of intense pain or the drought of bitter disappointment.
I am impressed by observing that, for someone like Paul, living and serving God did not mean that life was without difficulties. Rather it was a solid foundation of faith in God as his Maker, King and Redeemer that nourished him both in adversity and blessing.
The Lord Jesus spoke of the joy that is in heaven over one sinner who repents. Any person therefore who has turned to the Lord Jesus can know that he or she has been, and indeed always is, a joy to the inhabitants of heaven. On the earthly side of that equation it is a permanent foundation for our sense of joy to know that we are rejoiced over and by the Lord of heaven and earth. He is now our Maker, King, and Redeemer in the Lord Jesus.
Psalm 149 is, for good reason, part of the Prayer Book of the Church as well as ancient Israel. It therefore addresses us this morning when it says: “Praise the Lord! Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of the faithful. Let Israel be glad in his Maker; let the children of Zion rejoice in their King.”
For Jesus brings joy!