Worship the Lord, All the Earth!
Passage: Psalm 96:1–96:13
Worship the Lord, All the Earth!
What does it mean to worship God? Can worship be simply reduced to singing songs, or to performing religious acts? Is it a lifestyle? Worship is in part all of these things. But it is also much more, isn’t it? This morning, Psalm 96 gives us a larger vision of worship and invites us to take part of it.
Specifically, the psalmist gives us three characteristics of worship. 1) Worship is mission-minded, vv. 1-3, 2) Worship is God-centered. Vv. 4-9, 3) Worship is future-oriented. Vv. 10-13. Three characteristics of worship, which I pray, will be encouraging for us as a church as we seek to glorify God in Christ.
Worship is mission-minded
We begin in vv. 1-3 where we see that worship is mission-minded. From the very beginning, we notice that the worship of God in Psalm 96 is not limited to any single group of people. Worship in Psalm 96 has a global-scope.
Look in the text with me:
v.1, Sing to the Lord a new song, sing to the Lord, all the earth!
v.3, Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all peoples!
v.10, Say among the nations, the Lord reigns!
You see, worship is global.
The second thing we notice from the text is that worship is not an option, but a command. Notice the commanding force in these verses: sing to the Lord, tell of his salvation, declare his glory, ascribe to the Lord, bring an offering, come into his courts, worship the Lord.
Psalm 96 drives us with force to worship God. Worship is a global command. All the nations of the earth are called and commanded to worship God.
The question before us now is how do the nations worship God? What does worshipping God look like according to Psalm 96?
Notice first, how the verbs or commands parallel each other in vv. 1 and 2. V.1, “Sing to the Lord a new song,” and then v.2, “sing to the Lord, bless his name, tell of his salvation from day to day.” The singing in v. 1 and the telling in v.2 are one and the same. They mirror each other. And that helps us to make the connection between the two verses. If singing and telling are one then the new song that we sing in v.1 and the salvation that we proclaim in v.2 are also the same. They mirror each other.
What is the new song in v.1? It is a song about the salvation of God. This new song stands in a line of previous songs in the Scriptures that celebrate the salvation of God. The best example I can think of is Exodus 15, right after God’s deliverance at the Red Sea, what do Moses and the people do? They sing: “Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness.” The people respond to God’s salvation with a song.
Now think back with me through the Old Testament. The prophets pick up the Exodus as a picture of God’s future salvation, which Isaiah describes as a new work. Isaiah 43, “Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing.” And how will the Lord accomplish this new work of salvation? The prophets Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others tell us that God will do it through a new covenant. A covenant of peace. There this a thread in the Old Testament of references to God’s future salvation as a new work distinct from the old.
But that is not all, the prophet Isaiah again puts all these things together but applies them not only to Israel, but to all the nations of the earth which he envisions singing a new song. Isaiah 42:10 “Sing a new song to the LORD! Sing his praises from the ends of the earth!”
Bring it back to Psalm 96 verse 1, what is this new song that the entire earth is summoned to sing? It is the song that tells of God’s promised salvation in the new covenant. It is the song that proclaims God’s salvation in the gospel.
The song is new not because it is creative or inventive; it is new because God’s salvation is new. God has accomplished what he promised by the mouth of the prophets, in sending his only begotten Son, God in the flesh, to live a perfect life of obedience to God’s will, to shed his blood and die for sin, and to take his life up again that he may secure salvation for God’s people. God has accomplished salvation in Jesus Christ, so that everyone who trusts in him by faith should not perish but have eternal life. This is the new song that we sing, brothers and sisters.
And if you are without Christ this morning I pray and hope that as you hear the command to worship God this morning from Psalm 96, you may repent an turn from sin to the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the promised salvation of God.
God’s salvation in v.2 then is described in v.3 as God’s marvelous works. Look there in v.3, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples!” Notice here that to tell of God’s salvation means to declare God’s glory. It is in his work of salvation that God reveals his glory. If you want to see the glory of God, if you want to know God, then you must look to the cross. You must look to Christ crucified and risen from the dead. That is why we want to be a church that is about the gospel, because it is in the gospel that God reveals himself and glorifies himself among his people.
So then, worship is not merely contemplative but declarative. Worship is not inward-focused, but looks outwardly to proclaim the salvation of God. To whom? To the nations. “Declare his glory among the nations.” Worship is mission-minded because all the nations are commanded to worship God. And therefore God’s people are sent out to declare God’s marvelous works throughout the earth.
We see this in the New Testament. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved,” Paul says in Romans 10. But then he asks, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?”
Brothers and sisters, as I was preparing this week I couldn’t but pray that one day God may call one of us in this room, to go, and to take the gospel to those who have never heard before. There are about 16,000 people groups on the earth. And more than 7,000 of them have no gospel witness today. That is millions of people, going to sleep and waking up every morning without God and without hope in this world. And they will do the same thing tomorrow, and the next day, and the next, and will live their entire lives without ever hearing about God’s salvation, unless some of us go. Let me challenge you with this, brothers and sisters. Have you ever asked God, is it me, Lord? Is it our family? Are you calling us to go? Every Christian at some point in their life needs to ask this question and be open to whatever the Lord may say. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest,” (Matthew 9:37-38). Ask God to send laborers to the field, and then ask him, is it me, Lord? Is it us?
Worship is a global command and therefore worship is mission-minded. As John Piper says, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” There are people in your family, neighborhood, workplace, and in the farthest coastlands of the globe who do not worship the Lord our God. And so we go, and we send, and support the work of missions that all peoples may hear of the salvation of God in Christ.
So that’s the how of worship in vv.1-3. We worship God as we go and tell of his salvation among the nations. Worship is mission-minded.
Worship is God-centered
The next question we can ask of the text is why? Why worship God?
And this takes to our second point in vv.4-9 where we see that worship is God-centered. Notice how v.3 transitions into v.4, “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For [that is, because] great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised.”
God’s command that we worship him is not egotistic or selfish. If anyone else would demand our worship, we would rightly say of that person that they are a self-conceited lunatic. But not God. The praises we ascribe to God are in accordance with his greatness. He is great and therefore he is greatly to be praised.
Moreover, the Lord “is to be feared above all gods,” v.4. To worship God is both delightful and weighty. It includes both singing in v.1 and fearing here in v.4. God’s greatness or glory includes both his power and his moral beauty, or what we call his holiness.
God’s glory is seen first in his power. The power of God is revealed in his marvelous works of salvation as we saw in vv.1-3. And it is also revealed in his work of creation. V.5, “For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the Lord made the heavens.”
The Lord is great because in contrast to these worthless idols, who cannot do anything, the Lord made the heavens. The Lord is able to do something, while the false gods of the people cannot lift one finger, they are worthless and Psalm 115 warns us that “Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”
Those who trust on worthless idols become dull and incapacitated as they are. “But they who wait for the Lord [Isaiah says,] shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles” (Is. 40:31), because God “gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength” (Is. 40:30).
Let me ask you then, who are you trusting today? What is the thing or event or circumstance that you think, if only I had this or if only that would happen then I would be ok? Whether be more money, or better relationships, or a new job, or more vacation time, none of those things can save you. They are good things in themselves, but they make horrible saviors. It is the nature of idols to fail you. They promise much and leave you empty. But it is the power of God to save those who trust in him, and to satisfy their hearts with himself.
We not only see the Lord’s glory displayed in his power, but also in his holy nature. Look there in v.6 “Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” Power in itself is not commendable. Simply exercising your power over others without moral virtue does not make you great, it makes you a bully and a tyrant. God, however, exercises his power according to his holy nature. He exercises his power according to his moral beauty. So that everything he does is good. God’s very nature is holy and therefore splendor and majesty emanate from him. “Strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.” God is both powerful and holy in his perfections.
And this is what I mean by saying that to worship God is both delightful and weighty. It is gladness and terror joined together. It is like standing at the edge of Mt. Elbert in the Rocky Mountains or at the edge of the Grand Canyon. It is like holding your newborn baby for the first time, or looking into your bride’s eyes as she walks down the aisle. The kind of joy that makes you weak in your knees. That is but a feeble and inadequate attempt to describe the gravity and gladness of worship. God is awesome in power and perfect in moral beauty. There is nothing else and no one else like him. Worship is God-centered, because God is the most valuable treasure in the universe. In his presence, there is both strength and beauty, power and holiness.
In vv.7-10 we are called to respond to God’s greatness in worship.
“Ascribe to the Lord, O families of the peoples, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength! Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name.” Notice in these verses again that worship means ascribing to God what is already true of him. Praise is due to God.
But if God is already glorious, why the need to receive praise. God doesn’t need to receive praise. He is not dependent on us to ascribe glory to him. He is glorious in himself. The command to ascribe glory to God is not for God’s sake but for our own.
In his reflections on the Psalms, C. S. Lewis writes about this. He says:
“Just as [people] spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge [others] to join them in praising it… It isn’t out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete until it is expressed.” 1
Our joy in God is not complete until we express it with praises that declare his glory and invite others to come and to join in our delight. You want to grow in your joy and love for God? Then go out and tell others about his glory, and you will grow more satisfied in him.
The psalmist goes on in v.8 and transitions into v.9, which is arguably the heart of Psalm 96, “bring an offering, and come to his courts, worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness.” What is this splendor of holiness? That phrase in v.8, “come into his courts,” helps us to answer that question. The courts are a reference to the temple. The place where God dwelt under the Old Covenant. That is why everything in the temple had to be holy, consecrated to God. Everyone who entered the temple had to be purified first, including the priests, who were directed to wear holy garments. And that, holy garments or holy attire, is actually a more literal translation of the phrase “splendor of holiness” in v.9. “Worship the Lord in holy garments.” The picture here then is that of priestly worship in the temple.
But notice, and this is so wonderful, notice that the priestly ministry envisioned by the psalmist is no longer to the Israelite priest from the tribe of Levi, but to the “families of the peoples” in v.7. It is the nations now who come into the courts of God. The nations have become priests unto God. You see it? It is a glorious picture, the fulfillment of Isaiah 2, “It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established… and all the nations shall flow to it.” (Isaiah 2:2)
It is what Peter says Christ has accomplished by his blood, he has redeemed “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession.” (1 Peter 2:9)
And it is what John sees in his heavenly vision when Jesus the Lamb stands in the midst of the crowd, and the elders bow down to worship him, “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." (Revelataion 5:9-10).
Worship is God-centered because God is worthy to receive the praise of all peoples. The Lord is great and he has redeemed for himself a people from all the nations of the earth, that we may worship him in holiness.
And if you think the psalmist is done, he is not. It gets even better.
Worship is future-oriented
And this brings us to our third and final point in vv. 10-13 where we see that worship is future-oriented. Worship looks forward to the final consummation of all of God’s promises in the age to come. The time when all creation becomes the temple of God and his glory covers the earth like the waters cover the sea.
Look there in vv. 11-12 “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes, for he comes to judge the earth.”
Psalm 96 gives us a vision of worship that is not only global, but cosmic. The heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the forsts, all bow down before the Lord. The whole creation joins in the new song of redemption. This is what the apostle Paul writes about in Romans 8 when he says that “the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… in hope [of being] set free from its bondage to corruption.”
And as we look forward to this redemption, our worship is fueled with hope. Worship is faith acting in hope. It is faith looking forward to God’s final salvation. That is how you walk by faith. You sing praises to God as an expression of your hope in his future deliverance.
Worship is not for those who are strong in themselves, brothers and sisters. But for those who depend on God’s grace for tomorrow. Paul says that “We… groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.”
Beloved, they day will come, and is coming soon, when the Lord our God will come as it says in our text in v.13, “he will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in his faithfulness.” And on that day his righteousness and faithfulness will finally be seen in their fullness and we will rejoice in them with endless praise. We now see that day with the eyes of faith, as if through a mirror, the mirror of God’s Word in Psalm 96. But one day we will see God’s salvation with our very eyes. And then our joy will be complete.
Until then God’s people will continue to gather every week in God-centered worship, to proclaim the great works of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ, as a foretaste of the day when the whole creation joins in the song of the redeemed. Let’s pray.
1. C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms. (New York: Harcourt, Brace & Co., 1958), pp. 93–95